Sharing economy

Perfect strangers: How do you know who anyone is anymore?

By Oliver Smith 19 February 2016
Uber black car with driver

From your Uber driver to your Hassle cleaner, the number of strangers in our lives is soaring.

With the internet, and especially with the sharing economy, there’s an entire generational workforce who are quickly moving between online platforms for work.

Whether that’s listing a spare room on Airbnb, driving for a few hours a week on Uber, completing a few DIY jobs on TaskRabbit or cleaning someone’s flat via Hassle.

And as a customer of these services you’re required to trust that the individual you let into your house is as trustworthy as the stranger driving your car.

“The velocity of interactions is soaring upwards, but the likelihood of you having a bad experience is quite stark,” Husayn Kassai, co-founder of intelligent background checking firm Onfido, told The Memo.

“30 years ago people tended to know each other and just do one job, but we’re moving into a world where people interact with many perfect strangers every day, all who do multiple jobs.”

And that’s where companies like Onfido are coming into their own, in making sure everyone is who they say they are.


Identifying perfect strangers

If you’ve ever registered to work on a platform like Hassle, Deliveroo or OneFineStay you’ll already know the drill, enter your name, date of birth, address and finally take a photo of your passport.

Onfido run this data through an instant checking system, pulling the numbers and writing straight off your passport to check it is genuine and not stolen, and then cross-referencing this data with other databases.

“When you’re interacting with perfect strangers there’s no time to build trust, it’s an instant on-demand interaction,” says Kassai.

“People need to be able to trust each other instantly for the model to work.”

While other background checking businesses will also do all these kinds of checks, Onfido’s innovation comes with the way that they quickly integrate these services with apps or websites, letting any developer easily add background checking to their app.

“The significantly dangerous thing we can detect is when people pretend to be someone completely different, usually a cousin or neighbour, either because they don’t have the right to work in the UK or they have a criminal record,” says Kassai.

But for Onfido, which also runs background and database checks not just for sharing economy businesses, but for everyone from the NHS to restaurant chain Côte, the most common discrepancy is far more mundane.

“We tend to see a lot of exaggerations, you got a 2.2 rather than a first, or you’ve worked at Goldman Sachs and they’ve never heard of you.”

Some studies suggest that as many as 30% of us will exaggerate details like this in our CV or job application, while 1% will make up entirely false achievements.

But don’t worry, says Kassai, because whether it’s your CV or your Hassle cleaner his company is working to root out discrepancies.