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Data protection laws are failing to protect gig economy workers from ‘unfair and opaque’ algorithms, new report warns

by our industrial reporter @TrinderMatt

EMPLOYMENT and data protection laws are failing to protect gig economy workers from “unfair and opaque” algorithms, a new report warned today.

Campaign group Worker Info Exchange slammed the bosses of app-based firms such as Uber and Deliveroo for being “deeply hostile and resistant” to digital worker rights, with staff often hitting dead ends when they seek redress under data protection legislation.

The group’s Managed by Bots report highlights how a rapidly expanding global gig economy has led to employees being “profiled and managed” by unaccountable and complex data systems, which determine how work is allocated, what it is worth and even whether workers should be dismissed.

When behaviour considered unusual is flagged, the “burden is placed on workers to prove they have done nothing wrong,” researchers found, even though they are unaware of what “measures, metrics or rules they are evaluated against.”

The EU’s recent platform work directive should give employees on the continent better legal protection, Worker Info Exchange said, but current proposals from Tory ministers will “hobble transparency rights while stripping away current protections from automated decision-making,” it warned.

The group has launched a joint campaign with Privacy International and the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) to put pressure on employers such as Uber, Just Eat, Amazon Flex, Bolt and Deliveroo to end their surveillance of workers.

Lead report author Cansu Safak said: “Gig platforms are collecting an unprecedented amount of data from workers through invasive surveillance technologies.

“Every day, companies make allegations of ‘algorithmic wrongdoing’ which they do not offer any evidence for.

“They block and frustrate workers’ efforts to obtain their personal data when they try to defend themselves. This is how gig platforms maintain exploitative power.”

Privacy International’s Dr Ksenia Bakina warned that algorithms are “seeping into more and more workplaces and this is how the future could look for all of us.

“There is already an inherent power imbalance between employers and workers. The power imbalance is being magnified by the invisible data collection and opaque decision-making,” she said.

ADCU president Yaseen Aslam said: “It is crystal clear that workers need greater algorithmic transparency and far better protection from unfair dismissal than they currently have.”

The campaign’s petition can be found here: https://pvcy.org/managedbybots

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