UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Just drop everything : the implications of reputation scores for the autonomy of gig economy workers Woodhouse, Paul


Gig economy workers are supposed to be afforded some degree of autonomy in exchange for the risks entailed within the independent contractor classification. In the absence of direct supervision and control of the labour process, platforms harness powerful information management technologies to track user activity and counteract worker autonomy through less visible forms of control. Platforms claim to be marketplaces that merely connect clients with workers for a fee, but in practice, their propensity to monitor work activities, evaluate performance and steer behaviour—actions that constitute workplace control—means they operate like a layer of management. Using interview data with eleven gig workers from online labour marketplaces TaskRabbit and Upwork, their respective profile data, and the platforms’ terms and conditions agreements, I adopt Institutional Ethnography to show how workers’ behaviours, attitudes and emotions are shaped in response to a myriad of performance metrics that collectively constitute their reputation. I ask, How are reputation systems configured by gig economy platforms and what are the distinctive features of these systems? How do workers experience and react to these marketplace reputation systems? Subjective client evaluations converge with the platform’s objective metrics to shape reputation scores, creating the conditions under which platforms exert remote control over gig economy workers. Algorithmic management techniques create classification situations whereby workers are sorted and ranked based on the robustness of their behavioural data, bringing more employment opportunities, income and autonomy for those that live up to the expectations of the platforms. Gig workers are expected to behave in ways that align with client and platform interests in order be visible and boost their reputation scores, yet they surprisingly feel free from the platforms’ influence. While interviewees demonstrate they have increased freedoms and flexibility compared to a regular employee, their experiences fall short of an ideal that encompasses a fuller and richer sense of autonomy in ways that call into question their independent contractor status.

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