Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Online reputation systems enable the providers and consumers of a product or service to rate one another and also allow others to rely upon those reputation scores in deciding whether to engage with a particular provider or consumer. Reputation systems are an intrinsic feature of the platform workplace, in which a platform operator, such as Uber or TaskRabbit, intermediates between the provider of a service and the consumer of that service. Operators typically rely upon consumer ratings of providers in rewarding and penalizing providers. Thus, these reputation systems allow an operator to achieve enormous scale while maintaining quality control and user trust without employing supervisors to manage the vast number of providers who engage consumers on the operator’s platform. At the same time, an increasing number of commentators have expressed concerns that the invidious biases of raters impact these reputation systems.
This Article considers how best to mitigate reputation systems bias in the platform workplace. After reviewing and rejecting both a hands-off approach and the anti-exceptionalism approach to regulation of the platform economy, this Article argues in favor of applying what the author labels a “structural-purposive” analysis to regulation of reputation systems discrimination in the platform workplace. A structural-purposive analysis seeks to ensure that regulation is informed by the goals and structure of the existing workplace regulation scheme but also is consistent with the inherent characteristics of the platform economy. Thus, this approach facilitates the screening out of proposed regulation that would be inimical to the inherent characteristics of the platform economy and aids in the framing of regulatory proposals that would leverage those characteristics. This Article then demonstrates the merits of a structural-purposive approach in the context of a regulatory framework addressing reputation systems discrimination in the platform workplace. Applying this approach, the Article derives several principles that should guide regulatory efforts to ameliorate the prevalence and effects of reputation systems bias in the platform workplace and outlines a proposed regulatory framework grounded in those principles.