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  • The bossy Apps


    Konrad Wakolbinger

    What remains of the great promise of the gig economy: freedom through autonomy.

    “With the focus on sporti­ness and indi­vi­du­al per­for­mance and with team spirit and cycling culture…”, Foodora adver­ti­sed for students as new bike deli­ve­rers. We, the users of platform-based food delivery services, hardly know anything about the working reality of the  deli­ve­rers  called ‘riders’.  A research group of socio­lo­gists and lawyers has taken a closer look at the situation of the riders of Foodora (now Mjam) and Deliveroo (now dis­con­ti­nued) in Berlin. The study focuses on the area of conflict between autonomy vs. control of the bike deli­ve­rers and asks in its title: “The App as a Boss?”. Looking at the results of the study, there are good reasons to affirm this question.

    Contrary to what one might think, the riders do have some freedom of choice. They are free to choose the delivery route, there is no time limit for the com­ple­ti­on of the job and if they work as free­lan­cers, they have the right to refuse jobs. But through the func­tio­n­a­li­ty of the Apps, the platforms have various tools that condition the riders to behave in a way that is cumu­la­tively bene­fi­cial to the company. For this purpose, nudging tools are combined with gami­fi­ca­ti­on elements. The pre­re­qui­si­te is total infor­ma­ti­on asymmetry. The apps collect data from and about the deli­ve­rers and thus optimize the control features. On the other hand, the workers on the bikes are largely isolated from each other and the way the apps work function as their black box. Rational decision-making autonomy is not possible for them. Because, if at all, they are only mar­gi­nal­ly informed about which input variables lead to which result and how the variables are weighted. It is signi­fi­cant to note, for example, that the deli­ve­rers of Deliveroo must decide on an order without being aware of the customer’s address.

    The strongest control feature of the platforms is undoub­ted­ly the influence on earnings. Firstly, through a bonus system and secondly through the per­for­mance-based incentive of choosing the shift for the next month. The system, which rewards good behaviour, generates a ranking: The “High-Per­for­mers” are allowed to vote first and sign up for the best slots, for the “Moderate-Per­for­mers” the dregs remain. Pas­sio­na­te cyclists among the deli­ve­rers compete against each other using ‘Strava’ (a sports app) and thus strive for top per­for­man­ces. The platforms thus generate a “col­la­te­ral” benefit.

    The findings of “The App as a Boss?” suggest that the bicycle workers feel more auto­no­mous than they actually are. Autonomy as the central promise of the gig economy is a double-edged sword.

     

    Refe­ren­ces:
    Foodora and Deliveroo: The App as a Boss?
    Control and Autonomy in App-Based Manage­ment — The Case of Food Delivery Riders
    Mirela Ivanova, Joanna Bro­no­wi­cka, Eva Kocher and Anne Degner

    What it's like to be a food delivery rider The Straits Times Singapore, John Lui 

    I Worked a Job At Deliveroo for a Week & Made £___ by Ben Morris 

    Tags

    The bossy Apps

    Konrad Wakolbinger

    What remains of the great promise of the gig economy: freedom through autonomy.

    “With the focus on sporti­ness and indi­vi­du­al per­for­mance and with team spirit and cycling culture…”, Foodora adver­ti­sed for students as new bike deli­ve­rers. We, the users of platform-based food delivery services, hardly know anything about the working reality of the  deli­ve­rers  called ‘riders’.  A research group of socio­lo­gists and lawyers has taken a closer look at the situation of the riders of Foodora (now Mjam) and Deliveroo (now dis­con­ti­nued) in Berlin. The study focuses on the area of conflict between autonomy vs. control of the bike deli­ve­rers and asks in its title: “The App as a Boss?”. Looking at the results of the study, there are good reasons to affirm this question.

    Contrary to what one might think, the riders do have some freedom of choice. They are free to choose the delivery route, there is no time limit for the com­ple­ti­on of the job and if they work as free­lan­cers, they have the right to refuse jobs. But through the func­tio­n­a­li­ty of the Apps, the platforms have various tools that condition the riders to behave in a way that is cumu­la­tively bene­fi­cial to the company. For this purpose, nudging tools are combined with gami­fi­ca­ti­on elements. The pre­re­qui­si­te is total infor­ma­ti­on asymmetry. The apps collect data from and about the deli­ve­rers and thus optimize the control features. On the other hand, the workers on the bikes are largely isolated from each other and the way the apps work function as their black box. Rational decision-making autonomy is not possible for them. Because, if at all, they are only mar­gi­nal­ly informed about which input variables lead to which result and how the variables are weighted. It is signi­fi­cant to note, for example, that the deli­ve­rers of Deliveroo must decide on an order without being aware of the customer’s address.

    The strongest control feature of the platforms is undoub­ted­ly the influence on earnings. Firstly, through a bonus system and secondly through the per­for­mance-based incentive of choosing the shift for the next month. The system, which rewards good behaviour, generates a ranking: The “High-Per­for­mers” are allowed to vote first and sign up for the best slots, for the “Moderate-Per­for­mers” the dregs remain. Pas­sio­na­te cyclists among the deli­ve­rers compete against each other using ‘Strava’ (a sports app) and thus strive for top per­for­man­ces. The platforms thus generate a “col­la­te­ral” benefit.

    The findings of “The App as a Boss?” suggest that the bicycle workers feel more auto­no­mous than they actually are. Autonomy as the central promise of the gig economy is a double-edged sword.

     

    Refe­ren­ces:
    Foodora and Deliveroo: The App as a Boss?
    Control and Autonomy in App-Based Manage­ment — The Case of Food Delivery Riders
    Mirela Ivanova, Joanna Bro­no­wi­cka, Eva Kocher and Anne Degner

    What it's like to be a food delivery rider The Straits Times Singapore, John Lui

    I Worked a Job At Deliveroo for a Week & Made £___ by Ben Morris

    Tags


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    About this blog

    By selecting a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. They are both based in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their cor­re­spon­ding articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.

    About this blog

    With picking a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. We both work in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their respec­ti­ve articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.