How Algorithms are Rewriting the Rules of Work
There has been a lot of ink spilled on the question of whether Uber is the future of work. But little of it has looked at the power that accrues to the rideshare company as a result of the information that it gathers about both its drivers and its riders. Like other sharing economy firms, Uber lives by its algorithms, but those algorithms are largely hidden from the drivers who depend on Uber for their livelihoods and from the users who have bought into the idea that its technology is neutral.
Uber has done a masterful job of convincing riders and drivers that its model is a positive solution to the changes that technology has wrought. Its narrative celebrates the sharing economy as a pathway to autonomy and prosperity that is open to all. But by blurring the line between workers and consumers and by using its technology to manage both drivers and riders as participants on its digital platform, Uber frequently misleads, coerces, and otherwise disadvantages both.
Alex Rosenblat has devoted hundreds of hours to driving with Uber in order to understand the nature of that work. What she reveals in Uberland will change the way we think about the technology platforms that are redefining the nature of work and the nature of employment.
In this thoughtful critique of the sharing economy, Alex suggests that there are ways in which government and the law can intervene to shape the way in which Uber manages its algorithms. While there will always be a struggle over power in the context of working for Uber or any digital platform business, making the algorithms more fair and the transactions more accountable can make for a more equitable and sustainable economy.
Published by University of California Press
Praise for Uberland
Functions as an examination of both how Uber’s algorithms are changing the way companies operate and exert control over their workers and how those workers are experiencing these changes. — Slate
This jargon-free and intriguing exposé offers food for thought for anyone interested in worker protections or societal changes driven by technology — Publishers Weekly
A timely look at the tensions between technology and the future of employment, and how ambitious startups might be changing the way we see and value work — Mother Jones
Rosenblat’s book is a combination of sociological analysis, excerpts from Uber-driver online forums, communications with Uber executives and employees, and an avalanche of in-person interviews with drivers from all over the United States and Canada. Her analysis isn’t a polemic; it is balanced and measured. — Los Angeles Review of Books
A fine work of technology ethnography. . . As someone who believes that technology is a positive force for driving change, I’ll admit to being deeply disturbed by reading Uberland. — Inside Higher Education