Blockchain, the revolutionary technology derived from bitcoin, is being employed to disrupt many businesses today from traditional stock exchanges to the $3 trillion global syndicated loans market. If one were to assume how the technology would first be adopted by the accommodations marketplace Airbnb, the top guess would be that it enables payments in cryptocurrencies. It could also start using smart contracts to calculate billing, whereby scanning a QR code on a door with your phone opens it and charges you by the minute as is being developed for Ethereum. However, another use for blockchain now seems likely to be tested by the firm first.
Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder of Airbnb and its chief technology officer (CTO), gave an interview to City A.M., a London business daily, about his firm’s focus for 2016 where he suggested creating a distributed ledger for personal social reputation, an idea straight out of science fiction (for example see Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom*).
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When asked about incorporating blockchain technology he said: “I think that, within the context of Airbnb, your reputation is everything, and I can see it being even more so in the future, whereby you might need a certain reputation in order to have access to certain types of homes. But then the question is whether there’s a way to export that and allow access elsewhere to help other sharing economy models really flourish. We’re looking for all different kinds of signals to tell us whether someone is reputable, and I could certainly see some of these more novel types of signals being plugged into our engine.”
What this means in practice is that companies such as Airbnb and Uber might allow users to rate other people based on their behavior in a shared blockchain so that before deciding what level of service to provide or if to offer you a job they can check a single source in order to judge you (instead of just searching social media to see if you are following any axe murderers as people do now for example). While such a system would also be a great tool for firms’ AML and anti-terror financing programs, the privacy concerns of such a permanent record of users’ ratings might be too much for some to consent to or for regulators to ignore if it really comes to fruition.
*In the Doctorow book there is a form of digital reputation ledger called Whuffie, that replaces all forms of money completely and is constantly updated according to respect ratings that an individual receives from society. This rating system is used in a post-scarcity economy to allocate the remaining scarce commodities, like the best housing location, a free table in a crowded restaurant, or a good place in line for a theme park ride.