‘Worker data science’ can teach us how to fix the high-speed economy

Globally, gig workers are running some of the most vocal and visible campaigns for workers’ rights. Across multiple platforms and countries, contract workers fought for official recognition of employment (which would allow access to benefits such as sick pay, holiday pay, retirement benefits and union rights), basic safety standards, pay increases and stable scheduling, as well as terminating processes that lead to unfair blocking and removal from the platform. At the heart of many of these campaigns is transparency, and platforms provide reliable and meaningful insights into how they collect and analyze data. Gig workers are asking to be exposed to algorithms that define, manage, and control the nature of the on-demand work they do.

Concerns about worker data and questions about the “black box of the platform” stem from two main issues. First, people who work in the gigs and platforms know that they generate huge amounts of valuable data. Platforms participate in what is known as “dual value production, “where any profits earned by the company through its services” are augmented by the use of and “speculative value of data” is created before, during and after. In fact, by asking to be shown the algorithmic processes that shape their work experience, contract workers are asking to understand how their labor creates value for the company. This is a claim that should be recognized and compensated.

However, research with contract workers have shown that their interest in their algorithmic bosses is more nuanced than a mere desire for higher wages. Hiring is absent, contract work is a form of self-employment and workers should enjoy autonomy, flexibility and choice in when and how they work, as well as clear information. Be clear on how to stay safe at work and how to reduce the risks associated with self-employment.

Currently, gig workers are not entitled to benefits. Rather, gigs and foundation work are forms risky work, where the working individuals themselves incur countless financial, material, and emotional costs in performing the work. In response to these risks, workers are arguing that access to platform data and a clearer explanation of how their data is collected and analyzed by the platform can help them make informed choices. Choose more wisely about when and how it works. Workers’ interest in background data is fundamentally driven by the immediate need to make gig work possible and safe.

While strong platform economy regulation and employment rights are fundamentally necessary in the long term, it has been clear to contract workers that they also need information about their working conditions to more ready. They are teaching us that the legal battle for strong worker protection is also a battle for workers’ data rights. For workers, however, the need for algorithmic transparency and accountability poses many challenges as well as opportunities.

Demand for data immediately revealed the imbalance of power in the underlying economy. Data, as it is now formed, is simply flow far from workers and come platform, where it becomes proprietary, valuable, and “big”. While platforms enjoy the advantages of big data collection and analysis, current data protection laws operate at a “smaller” scale and based on individual rights.


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