App finds babysitters, furthers evolution of location-based apps
June 21, 2018
By Tristan Ettleman
A new app connects Scottsdale parents with babysitters, part of an ongoing trend in the tech service industry that brings strangers into the home.
Location-based apps, whether for rides, deliveries, games, dating or babysitting, have accelerated human behavior and social conventions, Arizona State University law professor Diana Bowman said.
“This is the next generation of what we’ve done historically,” Bowman said, but users should be aware of the dangers.
Such apps are efficient and convenient but often don’t include detailed security measures for users, putting responsibility on consumers rather than relying on industry or government oversight.
ZipSit in Scottsdale is a perfect example, Bowman said, of a potential solution to a problem plaguing parents for decades: finding good people to care for their children. The app uses a 30-mile proximity radius, a recommendation score and a user’s social circle to populate a list of available sitters. A parent can set the price and send a request to any sitter – the first sitter to accept gets the job.
The process is comparable to the business model popularized by ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. “Everyone wants to model themselves after Uber,” said Josh Benveniste, ZipSit co-founder.
He said the service seeks to eliminate the awkward communication and payment situations that arise between a babysitter and employer. Venmo or bank account information is tied to a user’s account, and the app verifies identity for the financial information.
But the service doesn’t extend to background checks of a sitter – or of parents.
“We let the community vet the sitters,” said ZipSit co-founder Peter Helms. Being connected with trusted fellow parents will prioritize their favorite sitters, creating a system that weeds out unreliable sitters, he said.
Parents and sitters can block any profiles they choose, Benveniste said, and sitters have to be at least 17 to show up in public searches. Sitters are also able to sign up at 13, but until 16, they can only approve requests and be added manually by parents seeking sitters.
Kelley Morrison, a mother of two, had trouble with other babysitting services. “I found ZipSit because I was looking for an easy solution,” she said, but she wanted something safe. “The thing that you care most about is the kids.”
As for the emergence of apps that bring strangers into the home, she said, “There is a hesitation for anything new,” but the ZipSit community, which her neighborhood has adopted, eased some of her fears.
Her husband, Chris Morrison, said the rating system and trust within the family’s social circle lessens risk. “It’s not like Uber, where you hit a button and someone shows up at your house,” he said. “If you’re not good at what you do, people will tell other people.”
After “more than one ZipSitter” tidied up her home, Kelley Morrison said she considered less traditional baby-
sitting roles, such as driving her children to and from soccer practice.
She didn’t expect the app to vet that responsibility, adding that trusting a sitter with transportation involves her getting a sense of the sitter’s maturity, similar to what parents did before babysitting apps and websites sprang up.
Tim Verhoek, who has one child, still is seeking a babysitting service that fits his family. “It’s been kind of tough finding somebody,” he said. “I personally like to see people ahead of time… and anybody can really put in a picture of whoever online. That’s a concern with all the apps, that you’re not just hiring a weirdo.”
He said a lack of background checks by babysitting apps doesn’t concern him because he prefers to set up interviews outside the home regardless.
Still, Verhoek said he would be cautious to have a quick booking set up with an unknown sitter for his 2-year-old son.
He said he likes the idea of reworking the traditional babysitting dynamic, which ZipSit allows with special notes when submitting a booking. Verhoek’s wife works a schedule almost opposite of his, so hiring a sitter to watch his son around the house while he does chores and catches up on work from home would be helpful, he said.
Bowman, the ASU law professor, studies legislation to see whether it would be a barrier to technology or consumer protection. In general, she said, online services have a regulation problem: “The whole privacy and security debate has been kind of ignored.”
“The owner or business waives any and all responsibility” for what happens because of their online service, but that’s how our digital age works, Bowman said.
Bowman, who teaches at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and School for the Future of Innovation in Society, said services based on technology can seem faceless and disconnected, but users need to understand they’re still dealing with the unpredictability of humans.
The processes offered by such apps as Uber and ZipSit, she said, aren’t much different from what society has used in the past. “There was this dependency on a network,” but on a smaller scale, Bowman said.
Apps and websites with many users convey a “sense of legitimacy,” Bowman said, adding that as a mother, she’d be more likely to use an app based on community recommendations and vetting, such as ZipSit.
However, there still needs to be a way to keep consumers safe, Bowman said. The automatization of the world could remove some accountability, she said, but service developers must figure out ways to better secure apps that connect users and strangers.
“Consumers will have to be self-regulators,” Bowman said. “We still haven’t worked out ways to keep pace with what’s coming to market.”
– Tristan Ettleman is a reporter for Cronkite News