Highlighting issues that face current and future workers, Alex Rosenblat, author of Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work, was in conversation with Sarah Kessler, author of Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work (Macmillan Publishers) as part of Data & Society’s Databites Speaker Series.
During the talk, Rosenblat shared why drivers work for Uber and the unforeseen issues they face:
“It’s a lifesaver. [A person’s] business has gone under, they need to make ends meet, and they’ve got bills to pay. And they can be signed up and working for Uber within 4 days. That’s remarkable.
“At the same time, the conditions under which they’re working aren’t necessarily fair even if this does present an economic opportunity. So there’s this sort of balance between an app that can create opportunities but an app that also limits your prospects.
“And that limitation is pretty interesting. For Uber and other companies like it, who bill themselves as creating entrepreneurship for the masses—and this is just after the Great Recession—,this is a very enticing call.
“But what I found in my research is that drivers are managed by algorithms that limit their prospects in a lot of ways and manage them to standardize their behavior in the services they provide.
“You can go to work, make money, and that’s great. But at the same time, Uber sets the rates, changes them at will, experiments with pricing policies, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to log in. But you might’ve taken out a lease on a new car and invested in this job. And so you still might have to go to work under conditions that are hard to describe as fully free and independent, which was kind of behind the marketing of the company.”