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Close encounters and the illusion of accountability in the sharing economy

Emma McDaid (School of Accounting, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Christina Boedker (School of Business, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Clinton Free (Department of Accounting, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 8 August 2019

Issue publication date: 8 August 2019




Online ratings and reviews have recently emerged as mechanisms to facilitate accountability and transparency in the provision of goods and services. The purpose of this paper is to examine the nature and outcome of the accountability that online ratings and reviews create in the sharing economy.


The study draws on 30 face-to-face and Skype interviews with Airbnb guests and hosts as well as on secondary materials, including content from Airbnb data analytic reports.


The authors demonstrate that face-saving practices widely condition user ratings and comments. Face saving occurs when individuals attempt to preserve their own identity and the identity of others during a social interaction. At Airbnb, the authors find that reviewers adopt three distinct face-saving strategies: the use of private reviewing channels, the creation of tactful reviews and refraining from reviewing entirely. The authors also find that users are sceptical of rating metrics and public comments and draw upon a wide range of alternative sources, such as private messaging and other publicly available resources, in their decision making.


This paper highlights the overwhelmingly positive character of Airbnb ratings and reviews. It proposes the concept of crowdbased accountability as a limited, partial form of assurance for sharing economy users. Guests and hosts alike prioritise face-saving practices over reviewer responsibilities to provide authentic, reliable accounts to the public. Consequently, reviewers effectively remove the risk of sanctions for those in the network who underperform.



The authors benefitted from the comments of Paul Andon, Rina Dhillon, Yves Gendron, Ingrid Jeacle, Marcus Milne, Jan Mouritsen, Maude Pare-Plante, John Roberts and Jeffrey Unerman. A prior version of this paper was presented at the 2016 A-CSEAR Conference in Adelaide, South Australia. The feedback received from all participants at this event is greatly appreciated.


McDaid, E., Boedker, C. and Free, C. (2019), "Close encounters and the illusion of accountability in the sharing economy", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 32 No. 5, pp. 1437-1466.



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