— Read this quote by Rosie Spinks about “What it’s Actually Like to Be an Instagram Model”:
Neither of them will be paid for their time, but when they post the pictures from the day they’ll tag each other, opting to maximise their nebulous “influence” rather than make actual cash.
Influence over income
Why do so many people put influence rather than income first?
People do not invest their time in building a fan base simply because it makes them feel ‘loved’ or ‘special’. Digital influence or reputation is the equivalent to capital assets twenty years ago. Why did Facebook pay $22 billion for Whatsapp, a company with no real assets? Because Whatsapp’s reputation, i.e. its good customer and employee relations, were worth $15 billion alone.
Ask any big corporate CEO, Instagram model or Uber driver: Anno 2017, “Likes” are more valuable than money.
Importance of reputation portability
In a world where digital influence and reputation pay the bills, companies and governments need to ensure maximum reputation portability across digital platforms.
The European Commission has been the first institution to take regulatory steps in this direction. In April 2016, the right to data portability was passed as part of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In article 20, ‘Right to data portability’, it reads that any person has the right to request or transfer personal data collected by a company or platform. Data must therefore be coded in a “structured, commonly used and machine-readable format” to allow easy interpretation by any machine or human being.
As usual, the European Commission’s main regulatory concern is boosting innovation. In order to keep up competition between tech companies, it explicitly excluded the possibility to transfer seller or user reputation across digital platforms, as you can read in the European Commission’s strategic note “Enter the Data Economy”:
Take, for instance, the case of shopping platforms. Often sellers build a reputation thanks to a buyers’ feedback system (…) The accuracy of the feedback system is one of the key parameters of success of the shopping platform. If sellers were able to export their ranking from that platform to a competing one, this would likely deplete that platform’s initial investment: new players would have a lower incentive to develop new and better feedback systems if they know that this may also benefit their competitors.
It is true that tech companies are not keen on sharing data with their competitors at this stage. Just look at this quote from Monroe Labouisse, Airbnb’s director of customer service, in an article from Wired about the sharing economy:
“We’re in an early and competitive stage. That asset — the trust, the data, the reputations that people are building — is hugely valuable. So I’m not sure why a company would give that up.”
Is there a way around this?
Trust as a currency
Here are some arguments for sharing data across platforms:
- Breaking down monopolies of the big players in the digital economy, like Airbnb, Instagram, and Facebook.
- Integrating and diversifying services across different platforms, for example, Airbnb offering restaurant recommendations through Yelp.
- Rewarding users who work hard to build up their personal trustscore or ‘brand’.
Ultimately, I think these arguments will work towards innovation more efficiently than restricted-access databases ever could. As Rachel Botsman already pointed out four years ago, it could also lead to an economy where “reputation is a currency more powerful than our credit history”.
There are obvious dark sides to a world where digital reputation determines an individual’s influence, access to services, and income. For example, how to eradicate the phenomenons of ‘a like for a like’, biased algorithms, or viral sensations based on herd behavior rather than personal trust?
I believe we have already entered a world where digital reputation and influence are more valuable than hard assets. Companies and governments should work together to ensure that trust is rightly attributed to digital users, regardless of corporate interests.
Other interesting articles on this topic:
Images & featured image: pixabay.com