How portability of reputation data could lead to a more inclusive labor market

An ever growing number of parties pleads for more control over personal data within the platform economy. Is this a viable idea? And if so, what would be needed in order to make it possible? Platform expert Martijn Arets of Utrecht University organized a workshop to host 25 stakeholders for a conversation about this theme.

Platforms gather data about the reputation and experiences of platform workers. Actually, they build an online reputation, validated with up to hundreds of clients. ‘Workers should be able to easily carry this reputation data over to another platform’, is the core statement of the last workshop on the platform economy by the Utrecht University.

Representatives of governmental bodies, trade unions, academics and businesses took part in the workshop, together with platform entrepreneurs in particular. Even most of the latter group pleaded for the individual to be able to carry their data along. That is, what could be thought of as stars given to Uber drivers, profiles on cleaning platform Helpling or hospitality reviews from Airbnb.

Less dependence on only one platform

“Parties actually agree on the fact the we should have more control over our reputation data”, says Arets. This would fit a broader development. He refers to the new European privacy legislation which puts consumers in control over their own data. “In healthcare, parties are developing so-called personal ‘data safes’ with private access for patients.”

Similarly, one should be able to download their work-related reviews from platforms (your reputation data) and carry it along, is a sound that is heard more and more frequently in politics and from trade unions. If a platform worker is able to transfer his reviews, he or she is less dependent on one platform only.

Degrees or reputation data?

Petra Zaal, representing Deloitte, researched whether there is any use in it or not. During her studies at the Utrecht University she examined how important degrees still are on the online marketplace. The conclusion: your reputation on work and gig platforms is more important than your education, she argued in her presentation. Especially in regard of unprotected professions like design, copy writing or translation.

Overview and control

Sara Green Brodersen from Danmark presented a possible solution. With Deemly, the organization she founded, it is possible to create a single online profile with all your reviews from different platforms combined. This creates an overview over all your reputation data. Your profile is then shareable by digital links (i.e. widgets and APIs) and hence available for third parties.

“This is the first solution that is useful for everyone”, according to Arets. “First and foremost for users, as they get a better overview and more control over their data. Moreover, it is easier for them to set out on new platform, as they are able to show forth their trustworthiness and competence.”

Rather a bad review, than no review

“Platforms may also profit from solutions like the one Deemly is offering”, elaborates Arets. “They struggle with the ‘newbie dilemma’. New users don’t have any reviews to show and clients are hence reluctant to select these ‘newbies’, which may slow the growth of platforms. We humans just don’t like to take risks.”

A complete reputation profile solves that problem. After uploading this to a new platform, you can immediately show that you are a trustworthy person. “Of course, the reputation of a taxi driver differs from a handyman”, says Arets. “Exchanging scores within the same professional groeps works best, but non sector specific scores contribute to increased trust as well. The key point is to show your existence. In that respect a bad score is even better than no score at all.”

From reviews to an offline CV

The same principle applies to completely new platforms, where none of the users have any reputation data. They will be able to launch even quicker.

The Swedish Public Employment Service, Arbetsförmedlingen, takes it one step further. Lisa Hemph and Nils Ahlsten are developing ‘My Digital Backpack’ in name of the government; a digital backpack containing all your reputation data. All these data will be translated into a CV. It is a way of supporting applicants to show their work experience on platforms to potential employers with a kind of overview made up from digital references.


“Regarding platform economy related queries opinions of employers, trade unions and politicians aren’t as far apart as it seems”, tells Arets. “Though, the practical implementation remains a hot topic. During the workshop we covered questions that need to be answered by any means in order to find a common solution.”

  1. How useful is it to carry reputation data along? One study doesn’t suffice, more research is needed.
  2. How to compare the quality of reviews? Is there a need to establish a standard for online reputations? On one platform, stars are given for the entire experience, although another platform might have separated scores for communication and competence.
  3. How to protect users from a review fatigue? You may be willing to write a review for a hotel visit a few times a year. Yet, when hiring 20 workers a month for your organisation, you aren’t likely to review all of them separately.
  4. Who is in charge of data? Is it a task that should be given to the government? To the market? Or should there be an independent entity (a “reputation data cooperative”)? Ultimately, you wouldn’t like your reputation to disappear when a platform terminates its activities.
  5. How to create room for mistakes in order to learn from them? Even one negative review may haunt you forever.

Next year, Arets will be starting a new research based on these questions.

This article was originally published in Dutch on ZiPconomy.

This post is also available in: Dutch

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