Worker Info Exchange – Managed by Bots: Data-Driven Exploitation in the Gig Economy

Worker Info Exchange was set up in 2019 as a digital rights NGO dedicated to research and advocacy of digital rights for workers and their trade unions.

This report was written by Cansu Safak and James Farrar

You can read the report here

The past year has marked a turning point for gig platform workers in the realisation of
their employment and digital rights. The practice of digitally mediated work has led to

a convergence of employment and data protection rights and the increasing litigation

and advocacy activity by workers has been yielding results in these domains. Across

Europe, courts have passed several significant judgments recognising the exploitative

role of algorithmic management practices by gig platforms while also condemning

the lack of fairness and transparency in such automated systems.

In Italy, the Bologna court ruled that Deliveroo’s rating system had discriminated
against workers while the data protection authority, Garante, served two GDPR fines

Deliveroo and Glovo due to their failure to adequately disclose the workings of
their job allocation and performance management algorithms.
Spain passed the first
to attempt to regulate AI in the area of employment, establishing both
worker status for gig workers and the right to be informed about the rules and

parameters of the algorithms they are subject to – unleashing a torrent of complaints.

This resulted from yet another court case against Glovo that ended up in the Spanish

Supreme Court.

Along with these high-profile decisions, the UK Supreme Court also concluded this
year that Uber drivers were party to a transportation service that is “
very tightly
defined and controlled by Uber
betraying a clear employment relationship, which the
company claimed did not exist in its endeavour to (mis)classify the workers as

independent contractors. Significantly, evidence of this relationship comes from the

data driven systems rideshare platforms use to manage their workforces.

Some of the issues highlighted by the UK Supreme Court related to the management
of drivers through the algorithmic monitoring of job acceptance rates, route choices,

driving behaviour and customer ratings. However, even though there is greater

recognition of algorithmic management, the recent gains in the courts do not fully

protect workers against its harms.
The limb (b) worker status given to Uber drivers as
a result of the Supreme Court decision is an intermediary status between contractor

employee, and still falls short of shielding them from unfair dismissals, for
Our experience suggests that these algorithmic management tools, with the addition
of intensifying surveillance practices, continuously scrutinising workers for potential

fraud or wrongdoing, are resulting in a deeply exploitative working environment. We

are seeing an inordinate number of automated dismissals across the entire gig

industry, many of which we believe to be unlawful according to
Article 22 of the
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

Article 22 does provide workers with some limited protections against the adverse
effects of automated decision making and profiling, through the right
to obtain
human intervention and contest the decision. Article 15 of the GDPR guarantees the

right to be informed about the existence of such automated decision making and to

be provided with meaningful information about the logic of processing.

Taking these rights as a basis, Worker Info Exchange was set up with the mission of

supporting gig workers in navigating this complex and under regulated space. The

goal and remit of our work is to test whether these GDPR instruments can be utilised

to address unfair employment practices and expand the scope of the data made

available to individuals in their capacity as workers. In other words, our ambition is to

use data access as a method of building collective worker power for testing

mechanisms of redress in a digitally mediated labour market.

When the employment relationship between the gig platform and the worker is
executed through extensive data collection and analysis, employment rights become

inextricably linked with the exercise of data rights. Gig platforms assert control over

workers by maintaining an informational asymmetry, and data access can provide a

means of exposing the power (im)balance generated by the informational gap

between gig platforms and their workers. Getting access to personal data can allow

workers to make independent evaluations about their working conditions and answer

questions concerning their pay calculations, the quality and quantity of work offered,

as well as challenging the grounds for adverse performance management including

suspension and dismissal.

Our goal in facilitating data access is to create collective stores of data to develop a
greater understanding of working conditions and consequently bargaining power. In

recent years, a number of noteworthy initiatives have emerged operating with similar

aims but using different methodologies for retrieving data. Some projects in this field

run their own data collection and analytics on earnings and performance to assess

the fairness of labour conditions (for example
Driver’s Seat Coop and WeClock,
among others.)

These all present unique insights into the gig economy and should be thought of as
constituting a continuum of data practice. We have approached this issue by

demanding that platforms share the data that workers are legally entitled to, however

this has introduced additional obstacles to the larger goal of collectivising data. We

took this route because we wished to set standards and precedents in data

protection law, but also because we believe there are certain types of information

that can only be obtained by requesting the data directly from the platforms.

We have found, particularly in the case of surveillance fuelled allegations of irregular
activity and fraud, that it is necessary to have the data held by the companies to

understand and contest the accusations. Data access can help us unearth the

inconsistencies in the narratives advanced by platform companies and help shift the

burden of proof from the workers back on to the platforms.

From this perspective, the endeavour of demanding platform data has proven
extremely successful in resolving numerous employment disputes. The simple

demonstration of platforms’ refusal to provide personal data has
reversed several
license revocations
(enforced by TfL) in court and thus become an additional tool in
the exercise of employment rights.

This constitutes the other branch of activity for Worker Info Exchange; as we are
frustrated in our attempts to gain clarity and transparency over the complex systems

determining workplace conditions, we frequently need to resort to litigation and turn

to courts for decisions in the emergent field of digital labour rights. The artificial ‘data

crisis’ the gig platforms have created is in many ways an attempt to exhaust and

deplete the resources of precarious workers and unions alike by drawing disputes

into courts where they can be prolonged and the accountability for corporate

misconduct delayed.

In line with these strands of activity, this report is written in three parts: The first
section explores different facets of algorithmic management and its harms, with

associated case studies. The second section deals with our process in utilising Data

Subject Access Requests (DSARs) while the third offers an overview of the GDPR

related cases we have taken forward in Amsterdam, as well as the licensing cases we

are supporting in London. We hope this report will demonstrate the current state of

play in the exercise of rights at the intersection of data and labour and reveal the

cumulative effects of repeated non-compliance by gig platforms.

You can read the report here

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