What if Gig Workers Banded Together to Resist Algorithms?

What if Gig Workers Banded Together to Resist Algorithms? (technologyreview.com)



from the needs-of-the-many dept.

“As more and more workers have fallen under the gaze of algorithms, a growing chorus of experts have noted how platform companies have paralleled the practices of colonial empires,” writes MIT Technology review, “in using management tools to surveil and exploit a broad base of cheap labor.” But resistance rose in Jakarta from an informal “base camp” for gig-worker drivers with Indonesia’s largest ride-hailing company Gojek. And their experience “could reveal a new playbook for resistance: a way for workers to build collective power, achieve a measure of security, and take care of one another when seemingly no one else will.”

“If one person shares a tip or a concern, it quickly travels through a loose network of WhatsApp and Telegram groups and across social media,” the article points out — also noting that drivers eventually learned that by repeatedly rejecting certain gigs, they can train the app’s algorithm to offer them different kinds of work. But that’s just the beginning…

Other drivers who are skilled in deciphering the mysteries of the algorithm offer paid “therapy services” to those who are struggling. A therapist will take over a client’s phone for a week and slowly coax the account back to health before returning it to its owner.

Then there are more sophisticated hacks. The more tech-savvy in the driver communities have developed an entire ecosystem of unauthorized apps that help drivers tweak and tune their accounts, Qadri says. Some are relatively trivial, built simply to eliminate a reliance on Gojek’s engineering team: they enlarge the text on the app’s user interface to improve its readability, or help drivers accept jobs automatically, a feature Gojek has by now incorporated. But the most popular, with more than half a million downloads, spoof a phone’s GPS. They can give the illusion that a driver who is resting is still working. This can avoid penalties for sick time or help quickly graduate an account to higher levels with more earning potential. Such apps can also give drivers access to places with high customer demand without requiring them to muscle into crowded spaces….

As driver networks have grown and accumulated political capital, they’ve also sought to agitate for broader reforms. They use social media to protest undesirable app updates or push for feature requests. Gojek now sends representatives to base camps to seek feedback and buy-in from drivers about forthcoming changes.

“This sense of community is now at the heart of what distinguishes Jakarta’s drivers from other gig workers around the world,” the article argues. “While such workers everywhere have felt increasingly squeezed and exploited by unforgiving algorithms, most have struggled to organize and effect concrete changes in the platforms that control their work or the government policies that enable their mistreatment.”

Or, as one California law professor tells the site, “You don’t get the kind of regulations you want without worker power, and you don’t have worker power without worker community.”

“This story is part three of MIT Technology Review’s series on AI colonialism, the idea that artificial intelligence is creating a new colonial world order. It was supported by the MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellowship Program and the Pulitzer Center. Read the full series here.”

There are two kinds of egotists: 1) Those who admit it 2) The rest of us


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