Protect data rights of workers - article on Internet Policy Review

Published on Internet Policy Review website on May 9, 2019

The future of work is happening now. Platform companies like Uber or Deliveroo collect massive amounts of data about workers to automate their decision-making systems (Rosenblat and Stark, 2016). Algorithmic management is also used to control the workers.

During our research about Deliveroo and Foodora, we found that the digital control of couriers operates by automatically sorting workers into three categories based on their personal statistics. Only the workers with the best statistics get the promised flexibility when it comes to choosing shifts, while the worst performers can be fired based on algorithmic recommendations

Digital control is not unique to the food delivery sector or even the platform economy. Workers at Amazon warehouses or call centres are faced with a similar challenge (Rozwadowska, 2018; Woodcock, 2017; Moore, 2018): how is the data produced at work collected, processed and used to evaluate our work?

As we mark the one-year anniversary of the GDPR, it is time to say loud and clear: the current regulatory framework might not be sufficient to protect our rights in a digitised workplace. We should consider codifying the principles for workers’ privacy and data protection developed by trade unions and technical organisations in a regulation that is specific to the workplace.

Also, it would make a difference to introduce standards for designing accountable systems before they are rolled out, so that workers’ interests are represented already in the technology development phase (Wagner and Bronowicka, 2019). We should also think about strengthening the institutions responsible for the implementation of laws or for creating new ones, like the European Labor Inspection.

As we contemplate how to improve the existing rules, we desperately need research into the detailed reality of the implementation of the GDPR in a wide variety of workplaces. This kind of research is difficult because it needs to account for algorithm rules, which are dynamic and opaque. It requires trans-disciplinary work of legal, social and technical researchers who combine methods to analyse impact on workers data rights and well-being.

Providing workers and researchers with access to data and inviting workers to co-design the technology can spur innovation – the kind that puts the interest of workers at the centre. The future of work is happening now, let’s make sure it is a fair one.

The whole article is available here:

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Joanna Bronowicka