Data makes labor market a two way street
The coming intellectual and societal upheaval brought on by the state of connectedness is aptly reflected in the recent fracas between Uber, a San Francisco-based personal transportation platform, and the freelance army of drivers who man its cars. They were protesting what they thought was unfair treatment by the company. "They're running a sweatshop with an app. They don't have the balls to come down and talk to us," Raj Alazzeh, a driver with SF Best Limo and a spokesperson for the drivers, told Liz Gannes. "Uber chooses to call us partners for their tax benefit. If they called us employees, they'd have to cover us all."
Follow-up stories including comments by Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick seem to indicate that the protesters are drivers whose accounts were deactivated because of passenger feedback. It is easy to understand Travis' standpoint - our customers don't like these drivers, so we are cutting them out. And I can understand the drivers' point of view: They have never been rated and discarded like this before, and are rightfully angry.
Are we ready for a Quantified Society
However, if you look at the story from the context of just Uber, then you will miss the real narrative. This isn't the last time we will hear about it -- there are more Uber-like companies with on-demand workforce. There have been incidents on AirBnB.
That last comment by Alazzeh resonated with me because it encapsulates what work will be in the future and what the next evolution of labor unrest could be. And it also highlights a problem we have not thought about just yet: data-darwinism.
In the industrial era, labor unrest came when the workers felt that the owners were profitting wrongfully from them. I wonder if in the connected age, we are going to see labor unrest when folks are unceremoniously dropped from the on-demand labor pool.
What are the labor laws in a world where workforce is on demand? And an even bigger question is how are we as a society going to create rules, when data, feedback and, most importantly, reputation are part an always-shifting equation? (Reputation, by the way, is going to be the key metric of the future, Quora founder and Facebook CTO Adam D'Angelo told me in an interview.)
-- Om Malik