Opaque Algorithmic Management Systems Facilitate Worker Rights Abuses in the Gig Economy
Employment and data protection laws are failing to protect workers from unfair & opaque algorithmic management.
There is insufficient transparency of the algorithmic management systems used by gig economy employers. Legally required explanations are incomplete, inconsistent, and unreliable.
Questionable predictive tools are used to predict 'fraudulent behaviour' of workers.
Disproportionate surveillance by gig platforms is resulting in an unaccountable expansion of law enforcement access to personal data.
Worker Info Exchange, Privacy International and the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) launch a public campaign to demand greater algorithmic transparency and accountability from platform employers.
Managed by Bots: Data Driven Exploitation in the Gig Economy, a report published by Worker Info Exchange evidences the harms caused by gig platforms' algorithmic workforce management systems. The report also exposes the dead ends workers meet when they seek redress by invoking their rights under data protection law. To read the report, download the pdf or, for web version go to: https://www.workerinfoexchange.org/wie-report-managed-by-bots
A rapidly expanding global gig economy has led to an explosive growth in the workforce, which companies manage through automated means with limited human oversight. Workers are profiled and managed by opaque algorithmic systems, which determine how work will be allocated, to whom, how often, for what amount, and crucially, whether someone will be subjected to disciplinary action, including dismissals.
Complex data systems flag every behaviour that might indicate unusual activity, and when they do, the burden is placed on the workers to prove they have done nothing wrong. Unaware of what measures, metrics, or rules they are evaluated against, workers try to piece together the evidence of their innocence to contest disciplinary decisions.
Over the past year, we have made over 500 subject access requests on behalf of workers, to counter these allegations and build collective power by addressing the informational asymmetry in the gig economy. Through this project we have found an industry that is deeply hostile and resistant to the exercise of digital worker rights.
While the recently published proposed EU directive on platform work aims to give workers far greater legal protection from algorithmic harms, the UK government appears to be heading in the other direction. Recent proposals from the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, if implemented, will hobble access and transparency rights while stripping away current protections from automated decision making.
A Campaign to Demand Answers
To coincide with the report, we are also launching a joint campaign with Privacy International and The App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) to challenge the exploitative practices of the gig economy.
As part of this campaign, we are releasing a series of video interviews with Uber drivers, revealing their experiences with suspensions and dismissals arising from interactions with facial recognition technology, fraud detection systems, as well as unaccountable intelligence sharing with law enforcement.
For the campaign page, go to: https://privacyinternational.org/campaigns/managed-by-bots
Together, we are also launching a public petition to demand answers and are writing to Uber, Just Eat, Amazon Flex, Free Now, Bolt, Ola, Deliveroo, among others, to ensure that the unprecedented surveillance that gig-economy workers are facing from their employers ends. Sign the petition here: https://pvcy.org/managedbybots
Cansu Safak, Lead Report Author at Worker Info Exchange said:
“The many worker cases we document in this report make it undeniably clear that the harms of algorithmic management are real and affect the most vulnerable. Gig platforms are collecting an unprecedented amount of data from workers through invasive surveillance technologies. Every day, companies make allegations of ‘algorithmic wrongdoing’ which they do not offer any evidence for. They block and frustrate workers’ efforts to obtain their personal data when they try to defend themselves. This is how gig platforms maintain exploitative power.”
James Farrar, Director of Worker Info Exchange said:
“As gig economy platforms mature and regulatory pressure builds, we are seeing employers roll out intensive surveillance and opaque automated management decision making systems to exercise ever more hidden forms of control over workers. This report shows how the latest wave of employment misclassification tactics involves employers telling workers they are truly independent in their jobs while at the same time management control is wielded as forcefully as ever but from behind the digital curtain.”
Dr. Ksenia Bakina, Legal Officer at Privacy International said:
“Under the guise of productivity and safety, gig-economy platforms and other employers are using dehumanising surveillance that can track of every movement a worker makes. We can’t let employers outsource their leadership to opaque algorithms to make decisions about which workers are good or bad, and who will be given work or not. Don’t think that algorithmic management only affects gig-economy workers. Algorithms are seeping into more and more workplaces and this is how the future could look for all of us. There is already an inherent power imbalance between employers and workers. The power imbalance is being magnified by the invisible data collection and opaque decision making. That’s why we are taking action against gig economy workplace surveillance and launching a petition in which members of the public can join us in challenging these invasive practices.”
Yaseen Aslam, President of App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) said:
"Our union has been overwhelmed with casework from workers who were summarily dismissed by gig economy bosses after unsubstantiated allegations were made based on questionable surveillance data and opaque automated decision making systems. It is crystal clear that workers need greater algorithmic transparency and far better protection from unfair dismissal than they currently have."
Worker Info Exchange was set up to help workers and their unions to use their rights under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to access their personal data, to be given explanations of the automated decisions they are managed by and to establish a worker data trust. www.workerinfoexchange.org