Personal encounters and the illusion of acccountability in the sharing economy

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Copyright: McDaid, Emma
Technologies of online ratings and reviews have recently emerged as mechanisms to facilitate transparency and accountability in the provision of goods and services. While online ratings have been shown to create trust in systems, trust in ratings by users has been largely neglected by researchers, despite the relationship between trust and reviews that has been posited in many accounts. Drawing on 30 field interviews with Airbnb guests and hosts and analysis of a range of secondary materials, I found that users are largely sceptical towards the information content of Airbnb s ratings and reviews. Scepticism is driven by initial perceptions of online ratings as being too high, and also by the face-saving practices adopted by users in the process of reviewing. Employing face-saving practices, users are found to adopt three distinct strategies (1) use of private messenger channels, (2) creation of tactful reviews that camouflage reality and (3) abstinence from reviewing entirely when leaving ratings and reviews on Airbnb. Trust in Airbnb s online ratings and reviews is found to be fragile, and users need support through other mechanisms to become informed. In addition to affecting trust, these three strategies combine to create illusory accountability in Airbnb s online ratings. This new form of accountability is conceptualised as crowd-sourced accountability and is found to survive without genuine engagement by users. These findings raise important questions about the efficacy of online ratings and reviews as a mechanism for self-regulation in the sharing economy.
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McDaid, Emma
Boedker, Christina
Free, Clinton
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