Reputation portability – quo vadis?


Establishing and curating online reputation is becoming more important and inherent in day-to-day life. Until now, a plethora of research has focused on either a) the role of reputation within given (but enclosed) platform environments or b) the general idea of data portability between platforms. However, little scholarly attention has been paid to the question of cross-platform reputation portability. With this work, we introduce reputation portability as one aspect of a broader dialogue on digital identity management. We propose a comprehensive conceptual model, portraying the most important actors, mechanisms, data types, and external influences. By detailing these dimensions, we deduce the need for clear regulatory guidance and identify a large gap in empirical research. Where today’s leading platforms currently forgo implementing adequate mechanisms for users, Personal Information Management Systems (PIMS) and blockchain technology may provide means to factually establish reputation portability. To that end, we derive future scenarios, implications and critical assessments for platforms, PIMS, and governing bodies to inform the ongoing debate among researchers and practitioners.

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  1. 1.

    Besides transaction-based reputation mechanisms, the list of such artifacts includes profile images, self-descriptions, identity verifications (incl. social media presence) and implicit information, such as badges, membership duration, and number of transactions (Teubner and Dann 2018).

  2. 2.

    There is an ongoing debate among legal scholars about the ownership of transaction-based feedback in the form of reviews; we touch upon this aspect in Section 4.

  3. 3.

    See Appendix for a detailed list of considered search terms. In total, 42 terms (excl. combinations) were derived. These include “reputation transfer”, “cross-platform signaling”, “review portability”, “reputation aggregation”, “digital identity management”, “reputation economy”, and various combinations of terms such as reputation, signal, rating, review, platform, aggregation, portability, transfer. To specify the search in an additional step, we used combinations with platform names (e.g., eBay, Airbnb, and Uber).

  4. 4.

    Note that within the context of research in the field of electronic markets, we focus predominantly on the economic dimension of reputation portability (incl. Its legal and technological triggers and implications). Other aspects such as societal, ethical, and cultural dimensions are an important part of the general topic, though, for the sake of focus and brevity, we chose to only briefly touch upon these items where applicable.

  5. 5.

    Note that laws such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) apply to platforms universally, that is, irrespective of their home jurisdiction, so long as they are active in the European Union (or in California, and hence the United States, respectively).

  6. 6.

    Or, more generally, distributed ledger technology (DLT) of which blockchains form a subset of (Burkhardt et al. 2018). We use both terms interchangeably.

  7. 7.

    The other TRI-elements used were: host verification, guest reviews, host reviews, social media presence, number of reviews, and star rating.

  8. 8.

    Examples were selected in a structured way: as they occurred in the academic literature that was found in the search process (see Section 3) or based on a list of previous startups working on solutions to gather and aggregate reputational data from across online services (Botsman 2012). It is quite remarkable that, at the time of writing, none of the companies is still in existence. However, the list served as a starting point for our search of current players. An additional search of non-scientific work around reputation portability was conducted, for instance, on company websites or – in the case of blockchain technology – in (technical) whitepapers.

  9. 9.

    For example, Airbnb offers such an “export functionality” in that it enables users to copy an HTML-code of reviews they have received and embed this badge on personal websites or blogs: (only accessible when logged in).

  10. 10.

    As happened with reputation earned on Stack Overflow, a question and answer page for programmers; eventually headhunters screened the platform for high-scoring developers with specific skill sets (Botsman and Rogers 2010).

  11. 11.

    We had the opportunity to talk to Uber’s CEO for East Africa, Alfred Msemo; the company plans to extend these services throughout the region and looks into more innovative ways to make use of drivers’ reputation scores.

  12. 12.

    Incl. Alibaba Group, WeChat owner Tencent, and the leading Chinese ride-sharing and online-dating services.

  13. 13.

    Note that the project’s CEO is Eric Ly, co-founder and former CTO at LinkedIn.

  14. 14.

    However, there might still be fees involved for validation of transactions on the network.

  15. 15.

    There are, however, significant legal challenges associated with storage and sharing of patient data that we chose to not further dwell on here.

  16. 16.

    Usually paid out in the respective blockchain’s underlying cryptocurrency.

  17. 17.

    A consortium bringing together governments as well as public and private organizations such as Accenture, Microsoft, the open source blockchain consortium Hyperledger (with Linux, IBM, SAP), and the United Nations. Besides such joint approaches to establish decentral digital identity, several big technology companies are eyeing opportunities to build decentral solutions for the management of individual’s social, professional, and financial data. Among those are IBM’s Verify Credentials, Microsoft’s planned Identity Overlay Network (ION) for decentralized identity (DID) built on top of the Bitcoin blockchain, and Hyperledger’s shared infrastructure toolkit Aries for DLT-based digital identity management.

  18. 18.

    We thank the reviewer for the valuable idea of developing these scenarios.


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Structured literature searcha,b,c (Google Scholar) Results since 2010
Search term Term by itself Combined with: AND (Airbnb OR eBay OR Uber)
“Reputation portability” 21 12
Reputation AND portability 16,600 1,900
“Portable reputation” 32 21
“Portability of reputation” 7 4
Portability AND ratings 16,000 889
Portability AND reviews 27,200 1,780
“Portable reviews” 25 1
“Review portability” 19 0
“Reputation transfer” 220 28
“Reputation transference” 10 0
“Transferable reputation” 17 4
“Reputational data” 237 44
“Reputational data” AND portability 41 18
Reputation AND platform 129,000 17,400
“Cross-platform signal” 8 0
“Cross-platform signaling” 0 0
“Cross-platform” AND signal 18,500 850
“Cross-platform” AND signaling 7,960 133
“Cross-platform reputation” 10 8
“Cross-platform” AND reputation 5,200 593
“Cross-platform portability” 694 14
“Cross-platform” AND portability 16,900 712
“Cross-platform” portability AND (ratings OR reviews) 5,170 335
“Cross-platform” AND “review portability” 1 0
“Cross-platform” AND “portable reviews” 0 0
“Cross-platform” AND (ratings OR reviews) 17,300 1,050
“Reputation signal” 216 28
“Reputation signaling” 254 32
Reputation AND signal 136,000 11,700
Reputation AND signaling 23,500 3,960
Reputation AND (signal OR signaling) AND portability 6680 1870
“Reputation aggregation” 754 229
“Aggregation of reputation” 89 37
“Aggregated reputation” 254 97
“Digital Identity Management” AND reputation 570 108
“Digital Identity Management” AND ratings 353 154
“Digital Identity Management” AND reviews 1,470 128
“Digital Identity Management” AND platforms 1,580 131
“Reputation passport” 7 6
“Reputation dashboard” 17 4
“Reputation economy” 1,010 242
“Personal Information Management System” AND reputation 56 5
  1. aAs of June 2019. Patents were excluded from the list of results
  2. bBesides these terms, various combinations of terms such as reputation, signal, rating, review, platform, aggregation, portability, transfer were searched (using the Boolean operators AND/OR)
  3. cTo specify the search in an additional step, we used combinations with platform names

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Hesse, M., Teubner, T. Reputation portability – quo vadis?. Electron Markets 30, 331–349 (2020).

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  • Reputation
  • Data portability
  • Digital platforms
  • GDPR
  • PIMS
  • Blockchain

JEL classification

  • L14 (Transactional Relationships; Contracts and Reputation; Networks)
  • L17 (Open Source Products and Markets)
  • L86 (Information and Internet Services)
  • K24 (Cyber Law)