Growing concerns about the quality of aggregated biodiversity data are lowering trust in large-scale data networks. Aggregators frequently respond to quality concerns by recommending that biologists work with original data providers to correct errors ‘at the source.’ We show that this strategy falls systematically short of a full diagnosis of the underlying causes of distrust. In particular, trust in an aggregator is not just a feature of the data signal quality provided by the sources to the aggregator, but also a consequence of the social design of the aggregation process and the resulting power balance between individual data contributors and aggregators. The latter have created an accountability gap by downplaying the authorship and significance of the taxonomic hierarchies—frequently called ‘backbones’—they generate, and which are in effect novel classification theories that operate at the core of data-structuring process. The Darwin Core standard for sharing occurrence records plays an under-appreciated role in maintaining the accountability gap, because this standard lacks the syntactic structure needed to preserve the taxonomic coherence of data packages submitted for aggregation, potentially leading to inferences that no individual source would support. Since high-quality data packages can mirror competing and conflicting classifications, i.e. unsettled systematic research, this plurality must be accommodated in the design of biodiversity data integration. Looking forward, a key directive is to develop new technical pathways and social incentives for experts to contribute directly to the validation of taxonomically coherent data packages as part of a greater, trustworthy aggregation process.