Sharing by proxy: Invisible users in the sharing economy

Keywords: sharing economy, proxy use, digital inequality, participation, sharing


With the future of work increasingly data-driven, platforms automate decisions based on the collection of vast quantities of user data. However, non-users constitute a challenge as they provide little to no data for either platforms or other users. We focus on a category of (non-)users that has not received any attention in research: users-by-proxy. Users-by-proxy make use of sharing services but they are not themselves part of the sharing transaction. Platforms cannot analyze their behavior to tailor services or allocate labor most effectively. Users-by-proxy also have significant implications for trust and reputation mechanisms. In this conceptual contribution, we provide a definition of users-by-proxy as a third category between users and non-users, developing a typology of users-by-proxy based on motives of non-/use. We focus on the ramifications of users-by-proxy for the future of work and their significance for the limits of data-driven decision-making.

Author Biographies

Gemma Newlands, BI Norwegian Business School
Gemma Newlands (MPhil Oxon., BA (Hons) Oxon., University of Oxford) is a Research Associate at the Nordic Centre for Internet and Society, BI Norwegian Business School (Oslo). Her research interests include the sharing economy, the future of work, and youth labour online.
Christoph Lutz, BI Norwegian Business School

Christoph Lutz (PhD, University of St. Gallen) is an assistant professor at the Nordic Centre for Internet and Society, BI Norwegian Business School (Oslo). His research interests include digital inequality, privacy, participation, the sharing economy, and social robots. Christoph has published widely in top-tier journals in this area

Christian Pieter Hoffmann, University of Leipizg
Christian Pieter Hoffmann (PhD, University of St. Gallen) is professor of communication management at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies, University of Leipzig. His research is focused on online participation, trust, self-disclosure, and privacy protection in social media.
How to Cite
Newlands, G., Lutz, C., & Hoffmann, C. P. (2018). Sharing by proxy: Invisible users in the sharing economy. First Monday, 23(11).