Tom Slee writes about the intersections of technology, politics, and economics. He has a PhD in theoretical chemistry, a long career in the software industry, and his book “No One Makes You Shop At Wal-Mart” is a left-wing game-theoretical investigation of individual choice that has been used in university economics, philosophy and sociology courses. He blogs at http://www.tomslee.net.
Those who work on sharing economy platforms are told that reputation is their most valuable asset and their key to future opportunities. There is no doubt that reputation is important to us, so the idea that it is an asset in which we should invest sounds natural and appealing, but it is flawed. Drawing on what we know about the use of digital reputation systems by eBay, Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft, this talk tells the distressing story of “reputation as an asset” in the world of digital labor.
One strand of the story tells of how digital reputation systems, which promised to help build communities into the networked age, have instead been used to extend a harsh free-market logic to previously-protected areas of our lives. Another tells of how the community roots of reputation have become a Trojan horse for a project to replace democratic governance with private and unaccountable centralized systems of surveillance and discipline. A final strand shows how the very idea of reputation as an asset encourages and promotes the gaming of community-based reputation. The story of “reputation as an asset” prompts a question: Can the reputation of reputation be restored, or is it a broken concept that can only be bad for digital laborers?