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What Airbnb’s blockchain authentication proposal means for privacy online

Nathan Blecharczyk, one of the co-founders at home rental platform Airbnb, has detailed the company’s interest in blockchain technologies to help establish user reputation and trust.

In an interview with City AM the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer revealed that in 2016 Airbnb would be looking into blockchain integration, or a similar distributed ledger system, to authenticate a user’s reputation and establish trust on the platform.

In a business where trust is a key factor, Blecharczyk suggested that the site could require higher levels of reputation from users in order to access more exclusive types of accommodation.

‘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,’ explained Blecharczyk.

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Currently Airbnb measures reputation through a combination of official identification checks and social media verification. Users have a ‘Trust and Verification’ tab attached to their accounts.

The proposal marks a potentially revolutionary step for online reviews and reputation management. It is a constant fight for e-commerce sites like Amazon and peer opinion platforms such as TripAdvisor to identify and filter out damaging reviews planted by competitors and trolls, or self-promoting posts which can mislead consumers. In June 2015, the UK government’s Competition and Markets Authority condemned the practice of businesses arranging positive feedback, promising to fine and even imprison those found to be in breach of the regulations. Blockchain, in this instance, could be a hugely significant tool for identifying commercial insincerity.

This also extends to sites introducing peer ratings for individuals such as teachers, doctors, landlords, colleagues and police officers, which are plagued by fraudsters, cyberbullies and trolls.

While protecting the integrity of some, the potential threat to anonymity and privacy online could also detract from the radical possibilities the introduction of a blockchain-based reputation could bring. A distributed and irreversible system for trust management, which stores personal data, could offer a hotbed for doxing and identity theft – and even undermine an individual’s right to be forgotten.

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