Restoring Gig Workers to Power: The Collective Potential of Personal Data Portability
Gig workers in the United Kingdom currently work without basic employment protections. As such, they assume not only all expenses associated with their work, but also the risks of this work, while lacking access to information about how the conditions of their work are determined. Qualitative work has shown (Gregory 2019) that gig workers have extensive questions about how their data is being gathered and analysed by the platform. These questions include how data is used to assign jobs, how data is used to track and surveil riders during their shifts, how rider data is used to enhance the functioning of proprietary algorithms, as well as how data and ‘performance statistics’ are used to delete workers from the app. As research has shown (Gregory 2019, Rosenblat 2018), these datafied working conditions and inherent power asymmetries result in worker stress, anxiety, and frustration. Riders explicitly state that if they understood how their data was being processed they would be able to do their jobs more effectively and more safely. In reality, British drivers have brought legal actions against Uber for not providing access to their data. In the case of Deliveroo, riders are currently organising around the issue of work-related risk and the recent deaths of several couriers, highlighting the issue of how data insights could help keep riders safe. Data access/portability are crucial for these workers to understand how their data is captured, analysed, and used to inform the organisation of their work processes. In the European Union, there are several new regimes that facilitate data flows from platforms to individuals. For instance, the General Data Protection Regulation allows the data subject to port personal data from one system to another. In parallel, the framework of Free Flow of Non-Personal Data facilitates the porting of non-personal data for ‘professional users’. The newly approved Digital Content Directive, as a supplement to the GDPR, allows for the retrieval of content other than personal data. It appears that both users and platforms have been empowered with the ability to access, transmit and reuse data. The gig economy workers, who intermediate between them, appear not immediately relevant to these regimes. This paper aims to situate gig economy workers in this legal landscape and inquire whether these legal tools are useful for gig workers to meet their demands. It first showcases recent struggles of gig workers in the UK, and their growing need for data. Further, this paper maps several legal frameworks that facilitate data flows across systems and analyses their applicability to the case of gig workers. Two major issues arise as to the legal status of gig workers (whether they be data subjects, consumers or professional users) and the types of data they may obtain (e.g. trip ratings, GPS data, explanations for the algorithms at play). The paper ends with reflections upon strategic implementation of those legal rights.