Uber as Employer: The Boss Is an Algorithm
In defending his company against assertions that Uber drivers should be classified as employees, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick often wields the algorithm. Uber isn’t a boss, he argues. It’s a software platform that balances supply and demand to connect entrepreneurs with customers.
A new academic paper pokes holes in that argument.
Researchers at the Data and Society research institute at New York University point out that Uber uses software to exert similar control over workers that a human manager would. The company’s algorithm uses performance metrics, scheduling prompts, behavioral suggestions, dynamic prices, and information asymmetry “as a substitute for direct managerial power and control,” they wrote.
Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The researchers, who conducted in-depth interviews with Uber drivers and studied posts in drivers-only online forums, situate Uber and similar sharing-economy platforms in a wider conversation about the trend toward employee management and so-called on demand or predictive scheduling software. Starbucks, for instance, hasn’t replaced traditional managers, but it’s among a growing group of companies that increasingly rely on software to manage worker schedules and behavior.
Bottom line: Robots aren’t stealing your job – at least in this instance – but they’re becoming your boss. And the level of control and surveillance they exert is often far greater than human management would, the authors found....MORE