Portability of Reputation Data for Gig Workers — a workshop report: First steps are taken, platform entrepreneurs show willingness to move forward.

Online reputation is an essential part for everyone seeking to do business online. As a renter, you want to be assured that the nice apartment you are eager to book on Airbnb really exists, or that the freelancer on Fiverr does understand the code you want him to work with, before he plays around with your website. When a hundred people before you write about their positive experiences with a certain lessor or freelancer, you should be quite alright with them as well.

 

Currently, suppliers will have to rebuild their reputation anew on every single platform they join. Even though you have gathered respectable reviews over the years as a retailer on eBay, when you offer your car for rent on Snappcar, you will have to prove yourself all over again. Wouldn’t it be practical to carry your reputation data along from one platform to another? Under which conditions does so-called ‘data portability’ within the gig economy create added value? This was the central question discussed by 25 representatives of platform companies, scientists and other stakeholders during a meeting in Utrecht, the Netherlands.


Explorational research – the most pressing questions

 

Initiator Martijn Arets has been researching on the platform economy over the past years and currently focuses specifically on the portability of reputation data. Arets explains his current direction, “The topic of data portability within the platform economy is a hot issue; everyone seems to be talking about it and has their personal opinion, but a slightly more concrete approach is still missing.”

As part of his research, he organizes three workshops in which stakeholders corporately draw up an outline of what a possible system for data portability should look like. The first meeting sets out with a presentation by Jeroen Meijerink, academic teacher Human Resource Management at Twente University.

Meijerink’s research focuses on portability of data within the platform economy from a HR management perspective. Only little is known about this so-called ‘reputation transfer’. Therefore he starts with a definition. According to the researcher, “Reputation data is data about the performances of a worker by a third party. These are reviews of the supplier by clients, customers, or the platform itself. Clearly, this isn’t personal data users entered themselves.

What do we have to be aware of before we can start working on reputation transfers? Together with three of his students, Meijerink explains which three questions we will need to answer first:

Why?
The answer to this question is strongly determined by one’s perspective. Users are mainly interested in the practical side of data portability and find it sometimes indispensable in order to get started as quickly as possible on a new platform. They would be getting requests more quickly for the gigs they offer if they could prove their trustworthiness. Someone who has already shown to offer great customer service on the platform Fiverr, wouldn’t have to start from scratch on Toptal.

This implies a benefit for platforms, the more trustworthy the users are, the more transactions are made and the bigger a platform’s success. Data portability is moreover very useful for those seeking to work through two or more competing platforms, for example taxi drivers who take rides from both Uber and Lyft. Although these competing companies wouldn’t be so happy with shared reputations, Meijerink assumes.

What?

Which data will be made portable? Each platform has its own review system, written reviews, stars, thumbs ups or downs. How to translate these from one system to another?

You could also choose to only take the number of transactions along. As research shows that the earnings on a platform are more closely related to the number of finished gigs, than the number of stars. Although this doesn’t apply to platforms mediating long-term contracts.

Moreover, it needs thought to decide on the form of portable data. Data is useless if it isn’t applicable, useful, and valid on other platforms. Are you choosing personality treats and competences, behavior (communication, reaction times) or would you only share results (like, productivity and client satisfaction)?

Who and how?

Can two platforms mutually share their data, or does it need to flow through a third party? And what is the say of the user in this? You could imagine that a platform worker would want to start over with a clean slate, or someone rather not sharing certain details on another platform. Would it need an opt-in or opt-out choice, giving users the choice whether they want to share data or not?

Background research: imported ratings could enhance reputations

 

Professor of ‘Trust in Digital Services’, Timm Teubner, already has some ready answers based on his academic research. By video call from Berlin, he shares the first results of his study called ‘Bring your own stars – reputation portability between online platforms’.

“What turns out? Star-based ratings carried along to another platform really do affect the trust you receive from potential clients and customers. It shows to be beneficial for users. Bonanza is one example of a platform that made such a link,” tells Teubner. “Users can import their existing eBay-reviews and are kickstarted on the new platform. eBay allows this, yet the sales giant doesn’t really like the situation.

Third parties

The questions ‘what’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ are slightly harder to answer. The professor has witnessed several attempts of entrepreneurs trying to combine reputation data of users in an online passport, such as Deemly, Traity and TrustCloud. Their business models didn’t turn out to be successful, as all these businesses have become inactive.

“The biggest problem is that these parties started with big, international ambitions and complicated systems, kept their scope as wide as possible and didn’t involve platforms or other stakeholders in their plans,” explains Arets. “With increased simplicity, an approach involving several stakeholders, and broad acknowledgement of added value, such a third party could be successful. It isn’t for nothing that I have involved partners from platforms as well labor unions, the UWV (Dutch Employment Service) and even policy makers in my research. Such a working model is not something that can be achieved by one man on his own.”

Set of Agreements in co-creation

 

A solid example of the power of co-creation is iDeal, an e-commerce payment system used in the Netherlands, based on online banking. Introduced in 2005, this payment method allows customers to buy on the Internet using direct online transfers from their bank account. The payment system sounds very logical, but back in 2005, the Netherlands was one of the first countries with a comparable solution. Matthijs Ros elaborates on how his company, Innopay, started to work with banks to pull off a joint payment project of national size. Whereas iDeal was a way to collectively compete with credit card companies, sharing reputation data is in the interest of all citizens,” according to Ros.

“There is a need for a Set of Agreements about data and applications” is his main advice for the platform economy. “This will prevent data and power from ending up at the biggest platforms. Co-creation can be used by a very large group of stakeholders to draw up legal frameworks, protocols, and standards regarding all important elements in the sharing of reputation data. The goal is the creation of a Set of Agreements with every platform joining in.”

Dutch platforms are willing to share…

 

What opinions do platforms hold concerning the sharing of reputation data? All thirteen representatives of platform companies present at the workshop, showed positive interest in working on the portability of reputation data.

“The idea is good, but there are some practical objections,” says Wiggert de Haan, co-founder of Roamler. An apt description of how most entrepreneurs in the audience see the matter.

“During the Coronavirus crisis we saw that drivers had got way fewer requests for taxi rides,” he states. “In order to help our drivers, we have tried to stimulate the demand, but also looked into how to help them to find work in another industry if they desired. We made it possible for them to receive an overview of their performances. It states the number of rides a driver has completed, the average valuation of the last 500 rides, the compliments received, and a description of the skills needed to drive a taxi. This certificate is acknowledged by employment intermediary Adecco, which uses it to help find new jobs for the drivers.” Read more about this in the Dutch whitepaper ‘Eerlijk Werk’.

…if the user wants it too…

 

“If it both increases the labor market and improves the income position of the working class, I would surely be willing to make reputation data from our platform transferable,” says Pim Graafmans of freelance platform YoungOnes.

Stijn Verstijnen, representing delivery app Deliveroo, states, “It doesn’t look that relevant for our platform at this time, because we hardly work with ratings. But if it would be beneficial for our users, for example, because it helps them to find a job in a different industry, it does become interesting. If it benefits our users, it benefits us too.”

Roderik Kuster of driver app Sjauf also mentions his willingness to facilitate. “Our flex workers really are the heart of our business. If it helps them in any way to share data, we will need to make that possible.”

Wiggert de Haan of Roamler is positive too, but stresses that it would be good to discern which kinds of data should be shareable. “We will have to assess how this model could work. Printing a PDF is meaningless, until, for example, parties like UWV (Dutch Employment Services) and Randstad (a large Dutch HR consulting firm) acknowledge its validity.”

… and if it isn’t at the expense of competitive advantages

 

What about the exchange of reviews between rivaling apps? Reinier Vastenburg of digital temp agency NowJobs says, “We’re investing much time and money in complementing CVs with relevant data and references. This is how we as a business add value. I don’t feel much for a seamless link to share this data in about two years. This will remain a difficult issue in this discussion.”

Uber recognizes the difficulty of the matter as well. Representative Hilhorst shares that they “would readily help their users by sharing data. But the question is what to share and why. If a driver asks for an overview of performances, that would be fine, yet we wouldn’t share, for example, a list of all served Uber users, because of privacy and competition restrictions. Moreover, there is no research yet showing that sharing of reputation data does add something for drivers. Your rating will not necessarily influence whether you are offered rides, as distance to the client is the predominant factor.”

Other platforms do see benefits for their own businesses. The more data a platform can gather about users, the better supply and demand can be matched. Graafmans (YoungOnes), “but it will have to be reciprocal; the benefits have to counterbalance the costs. I would be ready to share recommendations, but we don’t want to send candidates proactively to other platforms. It’s fine if they sign up with other platforms and get the opportunity to import data from our database, but the initiative should always be taken by the candidates themselves.”

The next steps

 

There clearly is enough to discuss. This workshop is part of a series of three. During a second workshop, scheduled for late November, these parties will meet again to discuss how reputation data can be linked to skills in order to create a digital CV. Ultimately, these parties will reach a first version of this digital ‘Gig CV’.

Martijn Arets summarizes, “The greatest challenge is to keep it simple, so we can start working on a practical solution. Today we have taken the first steps in discovering who would profit from such a system, who could build it and how a digital CV could create more opportunities on the labor market.”

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About this research: This workshop is part of a research about the ways in which reputation scores can be anchored sustainably on platforms matching supply and demand of labor. By strongly focusing on the development of concrete, relevant advice, this research both furthers the maturing of the platform market and empowers the position of contractors using platforms. This research is an initiative of Martijn Arets and is being supported by: UWV, FNV, YoungOnes, Seats2Meet, Freshheads, Swedish Employment Service, Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI). For more information please visit the research website.

This post is also available in: Dutch

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