The Problem of Trust in the "Sharing" Economy

As a community grows, it attracts opportunists. In a small community, the benefit to an opportunist of mimicking a sign of trustworthiness is small, but as the community scales, the potential benefits for opportunists are larger, and the incentive to mimic trustworthiness is greater. In evolutionary terms, Bacharach and Gambetta describe the phenomenon as “model precedes mimic”. Sharing economy sites have benefited from community membership as a screening process, but as they become larger they will need new solutions.

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As Gannes reports, a single bad incident has forced Airbnb to hire a 50-person “trust and safety team” headed by a former US Army intelligence office and a former government investigator. The use of a human team clearly doesn’t scale, so Airbnb is now turning to centralized analysis to solve its problems, saying “We want to apply data to every decision. We want to be a very data-driven company.”

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To be successful, the venture-capital-funded “sharing economy” will be forced to lose all those aspects of informal sharing that makes “sharing” attractive, and to keep those aspects that erode neighbourhoods, erode employment rights, and remove basic standards. And if they succeed, they will have used the language of sharing to bring about an unregulated, free-market, neoliberal economy.

Read the full article at Tom Slee's blog, Whimsley

 

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