Sunday, June 7, 2009

Couch Surfers....The site

So with all the traveling we have been doing, and trying to come up with ways to save money on hotels, plus finding out my youngest daughter might be hitting the road for some traveling, our oldest daughter let us know about a website called "Couch Surfers."
Reading the stories and the FAQ's it all seemed like a really cool, fun, educational and CHEAP way to travel to other countries and the US. Hundreds of thousands of positive experiences by over a hundred thousand actual "Surfers" in over almost 60k cites around the world in over 230 countries.
Sounds all great, especially reading about the safty features they listed:
Verification Our Verification System gives members the option to confirm their identity and physical location. When you see the little green lock on a member's profile you can feel more comfortable they are who they say they are.
References References are an excellent indicator of the type of experience you can expect to have when interacting with a member. What do fellow members have to say about them? What kind of references do they leave for others?
Vouching The Vouching System is taken very seriously here at CouchSurfing. Users can only vouch for members that they have met face to face and feel are trustworthy people. Respecting the significance of vouching is essential to the integrity of the network.
Then the Guidelines:
Safety for Surfers When surfing, be aware of your surroundings. Your safety is your primary concern, and your responsibility.
Safety for Hosts When hosting, evaluate your situation and your guest. Here are some things you might want to think about when meeting guests for the first time.
Then you read the "Terms and Conditions":
1.2 Identity Verification. Because user verification on the Internet is difficult, we cannot and do not confirm each user's purported identity. Although we provide tools intended to assist you, such as verification of addresses (see Section 1.4) and our "vouching" system, you are responsible for determining the identity and suitability of others with whom you may match by means of this Site. We do not endorse any persons who use or register for our Services. We do not investigate any user's reputation, conduct, morality, criminal background, or verify the information such user may submit to the Site (other than the address-verification tool). We encourage you to communicate directly with potential hosts and guests through the tools available on the Site.
There is a lot more information also regarding responsibility waivers, use of information, rights to terminate accounts etc.
At first looking at it I loved the idea and thought, this would be great! Like hiking through the UK but, KNOWING where you will be sleeping and touring in advance. Just knowing you will need some money for traveling and food, which I am sure your host mostly prepares for you. I can also imagine that the "Surfers" do help the "Hosts" with help, either through work or donations of food and groceries.
But, in looking closer at the site I did not see anywhere about warnings or blogs about not so positive experiences. And the site, though they say they wanted to be contacted "If you stay with or host anyone who you feel is acting or has acted inappropriately, including but not limited to offensive, violent or sexually inappropriate behavior, who steals from you or engages in any other disturbing conduct,you must immediately report such person to the appropriate authorities and to us by contacting us at;'
But, the kicker for me is:
" provided that your report shall not obligate us to take any action or cause us to incur any liability."
So, this makes me worry that all they do is veryify your address and rely on people and others that know that person, to be honest about who they really are.
Now as a mother, these things would stop me in my tracks. Sure there are supposedly all these great experiences that are going on all over the world right now and great freindships are being made. This makes it sound like the safest way for your child to hit the road to places they want to explore and have adventures at. But, where are the reports of misconduct? You know there has to be a few bad apples out there that are a danger.
Don't you think we need this to make an educated decision? We all know there are risks in everything we do and usually we can gather the statistics related to these risks. It is when we don't know whether or not 30 or 50% percent of the time something bad happens because we are only seeing the successful trips. Usually the risks involved have to be told when it comes to doing just about anything, eating, parking, taking a medication or having a medical procedure, buying different products, participating in sports or visiting Disney Land. All the risks are posted or explained. People will post about a bad experience somewhere. We post sexual offenders on the internet, criminal backgrounds are investigated and can be found out very easily.
So, I am searching the internet regarding blogs or sites that talk about the negative as well as the positive. I guess I want to be thorough so I can educated the kids about doing this kind of thing so they can make an informed decision.
We all know we cannot just say, "No" anymore. And tell them "Cause I said so!" They need to know how to find out all the facts and be prepared so they know when to walk away or stop before something bad happens since we are no longer there making sure they are safe every minute. It is almost even more scary now then when they were younger. At least then we were in complete control, so we thought. Now, we have so little. Oh, how it hurts when they run into trouble and you cannot fix it for them. They have to suffer through the consequences themselves. But, we all did it, had to do it and we are the better for it.
I am not easily finding facts except the good ones. Which IS a good sign. But, if anyone has information, please feel free to share. Never know, we all might join up and have a blogger group where bloggers travel around visiting other bloggers, etc. How much fun is that especially for all the moms with young ones or the empty nesters who are traveling around trying to see their "always our baby" adults. Of Course, I am not to sure the kids will let the parents crash on the couches, if they have one but, I am sure the kids will crash on others to get back home!
I did talk to someone about another person we know that is not a trust worthy person that is using the the site to try and plan a trip. This is where I worry. Knowing that even though this person has not done any serious damage, or is in legal trouble, but, that they have stolen from many people, lied and is not a responsible individual, makes me nervous. Will this person be able to restrain from stealing from others or taking advantage of them? It makes me wonder how many more irresponsible people are going around and taking advantage of good hearted folks that open their homes with blind trust.
This is something I think would be fun to do except for knowing that one fact or one person. How many people are like that person out of the 130k+ people that are members of just this one site. 1 out of 20, 50, 5 that are undesirable and how would we know?
So we need to be able to report on the bad as well as the good to know our odds and so we can better protect ourselves. And at least be able to create a better way of confirming people that can be trusted.
I will do some more looking around, and any help or information anyone out there that has information would be so appreciated, the good and the bad. I have been reading a lot of good stuff from the site. If we can arrange something for Mason for his trip, that would be exciting and a great adventure for Mason on his first road trip! He is a bit of a shy guy and might not go for it. But, we can check it out. I know my oldest daughters Dad use to live near Frisco, and he knew a lot of people. Hopefully we can get a referral for someone in this area. I am sure Mason would get a kick out of seeing the San Francisco area.

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