The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
The FTC should aspire only to set a floor of consumer protections in the gig economy--and not to preempt local regulation aimed at preserving safety, a healthy environment, and normal traffic patterns. My interest in the area derives from my prior work on algorithms, the book The Black Box Society (Harvard Univ. Press, 2015). I am concerned that the interface-between hirer and tasker, or rider and driver-is the critical glue holding platform economies together. I have no idea how many of the platforms match me to a driver, nor does he know how I was matched to him. And if the platform wants to treat either of us deceptively or unfairly, there's not much we can do at this point. That should change. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has led a campaign for "algorithmic transparency," to end secret profiling-whether of consumers or workers. Everyone participating in the new platform economy deserves a chance to understand exactly how our profiles are being created. And we deserve the right to inspect, annotate, and correct mistakes, or even unfair marks against us. That's a cornerstone of technological due process. The FTC should also consider how certain firms become dominant. Did they, for instance, make fake calls to undermine competitors: http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/11/technology/uber-fake-ride-requests-lyft/ or otherwise act in troubling ways: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/28/uber-lawlessness-shari... Most importantly, the agency should hear from a fairly chosen sample of gig workers themselves--particularly if the agency does not take a stance on whether they are employees or contractors. As contractors, they could be viewed as "consumers" of the apps involved. The better characterization is often, likely, employee, but the firms involved seem to resist it at every turn. If they are able to do so advantageously with respect to employment and labor law, they ought at the very least be required to respect consumer law with respect to all platform participants. Finally, I urge the agency to consider writings like the following to hear a more realistic perspective on the gig economy than many think tankers and sponsored academics provide: http://olivierblanchard.net/stop-calling-it-the-sharing-economy-that-isn... https://speedbird.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/uber-or-the-technics-and-poli... https://mistergough.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/the-collaborative-consumpti... http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2015-06-23/this-is-how-uber-takes... And an FTC staffer should consider attending the Platform Cooperativism conference at the New School on Nov. 13-14, to explore how to enable more competition in areas frequently beset by network effects. The last conferences in the series (in 2014 and 2009) are archived here: http://digitallabor.org/ I make these comments because I believe the proprietary, oft-secret technology of gig economy firms ?create a situation ripe for exploitation thanks to information asymmetries: http://gizmodo.com/uber-is-faking-us-out-with-ghost-cabs-on-its-passenge... ?Consider how easily mere petulance or spite-from either an Uber passenger or a manager in the firm--could doom a driver. The "Uber Driver Diaries" site has myriad stories of those perplexed by a sudden drop in their status. When a tenth of a point can be the key to making ends meet, the stakes of digital ratings are high. But many are afraid to even contest their status-complain too much, and you might end up branded a "whiner," or worse.