" We’re getting quite used to our algorithmic overlords. We’ve ceded, for the most part, that complex and invisible rulesets determine who will see our missives, travel pics, and RT dunks. More substantially, millions of workers now toil, essentially, for algorithms, whether via Uber, Lyft, Postmates, or the like. And the DoorDash tipping fiasco that unfolded this week highlights how increasingly dangerous this is—both in terms of the worker exploitation that nebulous algorithmic employment allowed for in the first place, and in the fractious and sometimes surprising nature of the fallout.
When DoorDash, which, with 400,000 contract workers is the largest on-demand food delivery service in the nation, faced fresh criticism over its deceptive tipping policies—the app used tips from consumers to pay out the minimum delivery fee it promised its gig workers, called ‘Dashers’, instead of letting them keep the whole tip themselves, essentially putting the tip directly in DoorDash’s coffers—it finally capitulated. After six months of refusing to do so, CEO Tony Xu announced on Twitter he’d be changing the policy.
“What worries me is that DoorDash’s pay injustice was only a small, emblematic horror, and that technology is creating a vast digital underclass here in the United States and across the planet who will toil permanently without decent protections,” writes the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo. Not only is no one offering protections for these precarious workers, but the companies have also trapped them in a series of automated and algorithmically driven systems. “What worries me is that these laborers are invisible ‘ghost workers’ hidden behind screens and apps and algorithms and digital tip jars,” Manjoo continues, “working for unpredictable, A.I.-dictated, sub-minimum wage, beckoned into furious action when you press this or that button on your $1,000 aluminum-and-glass happy machine.”
What worries me is that we’re getting sucked into these systems—systems that are very good at making us forget they were built by humans and encoded with human rules, and that those rules are expressly written to profit a small handful of people, probably men, in Silicon Valley—and that they are turning us against each other, for lack of more accessible targets."
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