Allow users to own the tech companies they help build

From a technical age, In 2016 and 2017, one of us helped organize a contributor campaign In Twitter, it asks the platform to explore strategies to attract users to it Co-owners of the company. After that, Twitter was enjoying takeover offers from the likes of Disney and Salesforce. To those of us in the campaign, it seemed wrong that a platform of such personal and political importance, attracting such devotion of love and hate from its users, was really just a commodity to be bought and sold. technical press covered up Our campaign but mostly dismissed it as fiction. We presented our proposal at Twitter’s annual meeting, and it won only a few percentage points from the shareholder vote.

Soon, in 2018, Uber and Airbnb wrote letters To the Securities and Exchange Commission proposing what sounded as scary as what we asked of Twitter: allow the company’s ownership rights to be given to its users — drivers and hosts, respectively. Regardless of whether they are (or should be considered) by law as employees, contractors or customers, these are the people that the Platforms depend on and they depend on the Platforms in turn. In a way, what seemed impossible in 2017 has now become the company’s strategy for the biggest platforms for work. Without much fanfare, user ownership was quietly emerging as an industry trend.

Airbnb’s letter The reasoning explained: “The increased alignment of incentives between sharing economy firms and participants would benefit both.” Platforms can command more loyalty from users who may come and go on a whim. Meanwhile, stock awards can reduce users to the benefits of company ownership, which is usually reserved for elite employees or people who already have the wealth to invest.

We tend not to trust these companies, whose relationships have always been at odds with the public good. But it is true that more pervasive ownership in the platform economy can be a game changer. at achievement, achievementAlec McGillis’ sweeping new book on how Amazon is reshaping America cites former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s observation that if Amazon owned a quarter of its workers, as Sears once was, the average warehouse worker in 2020 could have occupied more than $400,000 in stock.

The stock grant may also include rights to control the company’s strategy. For social media platforms, for example, user owners can demand limits on the use of their personal data, more control over what appears in their feeds, and a voice in shaping content moderation policies. Think of Facebook’s supervisory board, but with members elected by users and more important authority.

The Securities and Exchange Commission did not immediately approve the request by Airbnb and Uber to issue royalties to users, so each company has embarked on alternative solutions. Uber cash grants issued for loyal drivers, with the option to buy stock in its 2019 public offering. Airbnb, whose pandemic cashback has hit many hosts, announce Two forms of phantom ownership before they go public in 2020: a “gift” of company stock for payments to hosts and a host advisory board to inform company decisions. Looks like the companies were serious. The SEC appears to be coming; Late last year, the Committee Suggestion Allow gig companies to pay up to 15 percent of compensation in equity.

As giant platforms work out their own equity-sharing plans, we’re studying and supporting a parallel movement: a new wave of early-stage startups trying to include co-ownership in their plans from the start. Some are “platform cooperatives” like New York City’s new driver-owned transportation service, The Drivers Cooperative, And the Kinfolk, a consumer collaboration featuring black-owned brands. Instead of the massive returns that ambitious “unicorn” companies promise to wealthy investors,zebra“Startups prioritize benefits for marginalized communities. Others, such as gig platform developers GitcoinThey use blockchain technology to share ownership through crypto tokens instead of legacy stocks.

Tech investors typically expect startups to achieve one of two types of “exit,” an IPO or a buyout. What if platform companies could instead work toward an eventual “out to the community”? What if shared ownership is what long-term users expect? Instead of the chaos of GameStop madnessThis approach can promote true loyalty, accountability, and shared wealth.

at new article to Georgetown Law Technology ReviewWe have detailed several pathways on how toout into the communityThese strategies build on long-term examples, from the electric cooperatives that support much of rural America to the employee stock ownership scheme that serves approximately 14 million American workers today. We also explore the new possibilities presented by decentralized social media and blockchain technology. .

Few of the pioneers are actually achieving this. A few years ago, Hacker Noon, a tech news site based in rural Colorado, used a “stock crowdfunding” campaign (in which Nathan participated) to leave and build its own platform with investments from its users. Groupmuse, a chamber music concert platform, is now employee-owned and moving too Towards Musical Ownership.

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