Disrupting the disrupters Singapore rattles sharing economy with rule change

Mohd Fyrol | AFP | Getty Images

A commuter uses the smartphone app Grab in Singapore on December 4, 2015.

Singapore, a keen early adopter of the sharing economy, has fired a warning shot across the bow of Airbnb and Uber with tighter rules that could shake up their business models and growth ambitions in Asia.

The rules, some say, are a sign that even governments sympathetic to companies that allow citizens to rent out their expertise or property have a hard time striking the right balance between encouraging disruptive technologies and keeping them in line.

"I know a lot of people will give back their keys, that's for sure," said Lionel Ong, 33, an Uber driver, who wants to look for a less demanding part time job.

As its traditional manufacturing industry has hollowed out in the past decade or so, the affluent city-state has been quick to embrace opportunities in the digital economy, hosting the Asian headquarters of Airbnb and Uber, inviting its executives to conferences and investing in Uber's regional rival Grab through a unit of its investment arm for Temasek.

It's too early to say what impact the new rules would have on Uber and Airbnb, but they highlight increasing scrutiny by regulators globally and growth challenges facing these new economy businesses.

CNBC

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