When we talk about the sharing economy, we generally don’t mean letting your nephew’s roommate piggyback on your Netflix, HBO Go, or Amazon Prime.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
In the case of Amazon Prime in particular, it seems almost selfish to bogart the service’s benefits.
For those of us without Prime memberships, a brief explanation: The service is a multipart subscription offered by the online retailer Amazon. For $99 a year, subscribers get unlimited streaming music, video, ebooks, and — perhaps most appealingly — free two-day shipping.
It’s around that shipping benefit that we start to see a grey area.
Technically, the free shipping is meant to be shared with others, at least to a degree. “Free or paid Amazon Prime members can share their shipping benefits with up to four additional family members living in the same household,” wrote an Amazon representative in an email. “If you purchase a Prime membership for a small business, you may invite up to four coworkers to shop with this corporate account.”
Amazon makes it easy for you to share. However, it seems fair to assume that the company would rather not have its Prime members secretly securing free shipping for the entire block, much less selling one of their four sharing spots on eBay. (Usually about $US20, if you’re interested.)
When asked how, if at all, Amazon regulates who is shared on your account — and whether they have any thoughts about partial service being sold on eBay — the rep was mum. Since Amazon allows multiple shipping addresses and credit cards for even a single user, it’s presumably difficult to prove who is and isn’t part of a household or business.
While Amazon Prime members can’t share every benefit of their subscriptions, the only things they need to grant others access to free shipping are easily shared: the other person’s name, relationship to the recipient, birthday, and email address, and to make sure said recipient knows the account owner’s birthday.
Plus, Amazon Mum and Student members have access to Prime, and also to that same grey area of sharing. (Although if these members are in a 30-day free trial, they aren’t able to share the shipping benefits at all. It’s also worth noting that there’s another grey area surrounding Amazon Mum, which relies on “the honour system” to determine whether you’re a child’s parent or caretaker.)
The moral question raised by the shipping benefits of Prime might not have a clear answer for all of its 20 million-plus users: Should you share outside of your household?
Apparently, Amazon isn’t particularly enforcing the household-or-business-only rule, so when it comes down to it, the only thing keeping you from sharing Amazon Prime’s free shipping with your neighbours is … you.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.