Privatized reputation systems are the cat's meow, especially when we get to cheat

Excerpted from The Ten Ninety Nihilists

In July 2012, Taskrabbit's then-Director of Online Marketing Brian Rothenberg posted a fraudulent five-star review of Taskrabbit on Yelp.

Rothenberg did not run a disclosure of the fact that he had worked at Taskrabbit for six months at the time of the review, and he gave the false impression that he was a typical Taskrabbit worker expressing heartfelt praise.

"I get to do what I want, when I want, and for whatever price I'm willing to do it for," Rothenberg said. "It's easy and I'm totally happy with it."

In January 2013, I asked Taskrabbit's Marketing and Communications Manager Johnny Brackett whether this review was ethical.

"I hope you know we take these issues seriously," Brackett said, "and we are looking into either editing or removing the review entirely to ensure transparency."

(Since when is sending a fraud down the memory hole "transparency"? Fortunately I took a screen capture before it was removed.)

Brackett declined to comment on Rothenberg's reasons for leaving the review, which was up for several months. In early 2013, I reached Rothenberg by phone at Eventbrite and asked him why he left the review without disclosing his interest. Rothenberg declined to comment and referred me back to Brackett.

Around the same time that Rothenberg left his review, Taskrabbit's longtime Community Manager, Kevin Cruz, left a comparable, five-star review. He, too, did not disclose his long affiliation with Taskrabbit, posing as a disinterested poster.

"I've tried pretty much all of the service oriented websites and Taskrabbit is my favorite," reads Cruz's bogus review. "Why? The trust factor."

That was then, and this is now, but is there a significant difference between Taskrabbit's ethics in 2013 and Taskrabbit's ethics in 2015? I doubt it. Rothenberg has since worked at Eventbrite, and Cruz has since worked at a couple of startups pushing 1099 in new areas like home care for seniors. I would keep an eye on them in whatever illustrious things they do in the future in tech startups, private equity, hedge funds, etc.

Sarah Kessler writes in Fast Company that CEO Leah Busque is now patting herself on the back (my spin) for implementing a privatized simulacrum of the minimum wage law. In summer 2014, Kessler writes, "the platform instituted a minimum wage of $11.20, which matches the highest minimum wage in the country..."

Leah Busque is responsible for unethical behavior by Rothenberg and Cruz. She has been outspoken about reputation systems as a substitute for regulation, while condoning lying and cheating on star ratings for themselves. Her new claims about her privately administered as-good-as-minimum-wage system ought to be viewed in light of past hypocrisy.

--- Kevin Carhart (kevin at carhart dot net)