Future of Privacy Forum Releases New Survey on Privacy and Trust Issues in the "Sharing Economy"



Whitepaper Examines Benefits and Challenges of Reputation Management in Peer-to-Peer Services and Provides an Overview of Market Leaders in Key Sharing Economy Sectors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Monday, June 8, 2015 – As peer-to-peer services comprising the “Sharing Economy” continue to gain wide acceptance with U.S. consumers, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) today released a timely whitepaper that focuses on the reputational, trust and privacy challenges users and providers face concerning the management and accuracy of shared information.

Released in advance of a June 9 workshop focused on the sharing economy, the FPF paper titled “User Reputation: Building Trust and Addressing Privacy Issues in the Sharing Economy” – comes at a time when the sharing economy, especially in the hospitality and transportation sectors, is expanding in popularity and growth at breakneck speed. The total value of global sharing economy transactions was estimated at $26 billion in 2013, and is estimated to generate as much as $110 billion in coming years.

At the same time, consumers are recognizing the benefits of shared services: a recent study notes 86 percent of adults in the U.S. believe such services make life more affordable, while 83 percent believe they make life more convenient and efficient.

Sharing economy services – such as Uber, Airbnb, Etsy, and TaskRabbit, among others – rely heavily on online and mobile platforms for transactions and the peer-to-peer sharing of critical, ‘reputational’ information. This includes data regarding recommendations, ratings, profile access, review challenges, account deletion, and more. How access to and control of this data is managed by sharing economy brands and services is essential to building user trust, and has important privacy implications as well.

“Uber’s new option that provides riders with access to their ratings is an important step forward,” said Jules Polonetsky, FPF’s Executive Director. “If consumer access to services is dependent on ratings and reviews, consumers need transparency into their scores and into how these systems work”

The FPF survey provides an overview of how reputation-building and trust are frequently essential assets to a successful peer-to-peer exchange, and how ratings, peer reviews, and user comments serve as core functions of such services. It examines the commonly used mechanisms to build reputation, as well as issues surrounding identity and anonymity, and the role of social network integration.

The highlight of the group’s study is a section entitled, “Maintaining Reputation: Privacy Challenges of Rating Systems.” How sharing economy and peer-to-peer platforms are implementing Fair Information Practices concerning user-generated data, especially access and correction capabilities for users and providers, has tangible privacy implications.

As a result, the FPF paper undertook a survey of a number of market leaders in the sharing economy sectors of transportation (Lyft, Sidecar, Uber), hospitality (Airbnb, HomeAway, Couchsurfing), retail goods (Etsy, NeighborGoods, eBay) and general services (TaskRabbit, Instacart, Handy) to review how these platforms implement access and correction capabilities. Brands were surveyed to see how they implement access rights, correction and response mechanisms, and whether they provide clear guidance for deleting account information.

The report concludes with a call to action for many companies in the sharing economy marketplace, encouraging them to strive to provide more guidance to users about reputation and to be more transparent about access and control over information. Such moves will not only amplify consumer trust, but also help ensure fair treatment of consumers.

This is especially important for the future growth of the sharing economy sector, as the report notes:

“While platforms need to have good and reliable reputational systems in place in order to create trust between users, they will also have to ensure their users trust them. It is very likely that…users will rely on the platform’s reputation, in addition to user reputation alone.”

The survey was authored by FPF staffers Joseph Jerome, Benedicte Dambrine, and Ben Ambrose.

About Future of Privacy Forum

The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a Washington, DC based think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices. The forum is led by Internet privacy experts Jules Polonetsky and Christopher Wolf and includes an advisory board comprised of leading figures from industry, academia, law and advocacy groups. For more information, visit fpf.org

Media Contact

Nicholas Graham, for Future of Privacy Forum

[email protected]