Algorithm manages Uber drivers

Ride-sharing app Uber employs all of its drivers as independent contractors and continues to manage them without human supervision, only algorithms. The firm has faced criticism for creating a work environment that feels like a world of “constant surveillance, automated manipulation and threats of ‘deactivation'” (Rosenblat 2018). One African-American driver from Pompano Beach, Fla., Cecily McCall, terminated a trip early because a passenger called her ‘stupid’ and a racial epithet. She explained the situation to an Uber support representative and promptly received an automated message that said, “We’re sorry to hear about this. We appreciate you taking the time to contact us and share details” (ibid). The representative’s only recourse was to not match the passenger with McCall in the future. Outraged, McCall responded, “So that means the next person that picks him up he will do the same while the driver gets deactivated” (ibid). McCall had noticed how Uber’s algorithm effectively punished drivers upon interacting with problematic clients: the driver would be deactivated, or fired by the algorithm, due to receiving a low rating from a rider (ibid). Whereas the rider could continue to use Uber’s services. In this way, algorithms exploit workers. Uber drivers lack ample legal protection under American labor laws given their private-contractor status, and Uber’s automated monitoring system only worsens this inequality. As the algorithm is calibrated to optimize productivity, the well-being of the drivers is left completely ignored.