For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Good Gig, Bad Gig: Autonomy and Algorithmic Control in the Global Gig Economy"

by Wood, Alex J; Graham, Mark; Lehdonvirta, Vili; Hjorth, Isis (2019)


This article evaluates the job quality of work in the remote gig economy. Such work consists of the remote provision of a wide variety of digital services mediated by online labour platforms. Focusing on workers in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the article draws on semi-structured interviews in six countries (N = 107) and a cross-regional survey (N = 679) to detail the manner in which remote gig work is shaped by platform-based algorithmic control. Despite varying country contexts and types of work, we show that algorithmic control is central to the operation of online labour platforms. Algorithmic management techniques tend to offer workers high levels of flexibility, autonomy, task variety and complexity. However, these mechanisms of control can also result in low pay, social isolation, working unsocial and irregular hours, overwork, sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

Key Passage

A far more effective means of control was the ‘algorithmic management’ enabled by platform-based rating and reputation systems (Lee et al., 2015; Rosenblat and Stark, 2016). Workers were rated by their clients following the completion of tasks. Workers with the best scores and the most experience tended to receive more work due to clients’ preferences and the platforms’ algorithmic ranking of workers within search results. This form of control was very effective, as informants stressed the importance of maintaining a high average rating and good accuracy scores. Whereas Uber’s algorithmic management ‘deactivates’ (dismisses) workers with ratings deemed low (Rosenblat and Stark, 2016), online labour platforms, instead, use algorithms to filter work away from those with low ratings, thus making continuing on the platform a less viable means of making a living. What is notable about this algorithmic system of control in terms of job quality, compared to Taylorist forms of informational control, is that control operated at the end of the labour process rather than during it. (p.64)


Invisible Work, Platform Work, Platform Economies, Gig Economies, Hyperflexible Work, Algorithmic Labor, Precarious Work


Platforms, Gig Work, Algorithms

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