Digital Economy and Labor Issues

Scholars & Thought Leaders

Mark Graham

Mark Graham is an economic geographer. His research focuses on digital labour, the gig economy, and digital inequalities. He is the author, most recently, of The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction.

Sarah Kessler

Sarah Kessler is a deputy editor at Quartz, where she writes about the future of work. She was previously senior associate editor at Fast Company and before that associate editor at Mashable. 

Book: (2019) Gigged: The Gig Economy, the End of the Job and the Future of Work, 2nd edition.  Random House Business.

Ezekiel Dixon-Roman

Dr. Dixon-Román’s research rethinks and reconceptualizes the technologies of quantification from a critical theoretical lens (broadly conceived). He’s particularly interested in how power and inequality are reproduced, especially in human learning and development, and the ways in which sociotechnical systems of quantification are working on, with, and in the body to generatively form and shape the movement and flow of power, difference, and inequality.

Book: Inheriting possibility: Social reproduction and quantification in education

Hernán Galperin

Hernan Galperin is an internationally recognized expert on Internet policy and digital inequality. His research uses surveys, field experiments and other quantitative methods to understand the determinants of broadband adoption and use, and how these are linked to the mechanisms of social stratification and gender discrimination.

Lilly Irani

Lilly Irani is associate professor of communication and science studies at the University of California, San Diego. She is a cofounder and maintainer of digital labor activism tool Turkopticon.

Ifeoma Ajunwa

Dr. Ajunwa is a tenured law professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and an adjunct Associate Professor at the Kenan-Flagler School of Business where she is a Rethinc. lab Fellow. She is also the Founding Director of the Artificial Intelligence Decision-Making Research (AI-DR) Program at UNC Law. Dr. Ajunwa’s research interests are at the intersection of law and technology with a particular focus on  the ethical governance of workplace technologies. Her research focus is also on diversity and inclusion in the labor market and the workplace. Dr. Ajunwa’s forthcoming book, “The Quantified Worker,” which examines the role of technology in the workplace and its effects on management practices as moderated by employment law will be published by Cambridge University Press.

Mary L. Gray

Mary L. Gray is Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and Faculty Associate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. She maintains a faculty position in the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering with affiliations in Anthropology and Gender Studies at Indiana University. Mary, an anthropologist and media scholar by training, focuses on how people’s everyday uses of technologies transform labor, identity, and human rights. Mary is a leading expert in the emerging field of AI and ethics, particularly research methods at the intersections of computer and social sciences. She sits on the editorial boards of Cultural Anthropology, Television and New Media, the International Journal of Communication, and Social Media + Society. 

Film & Video

The Cleaners (2018)

Directed by H. Block and M. Riesewieck [Documentary] Germany: Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion.

Enter a hidden third world shadow industry of digital cleaning, where the Internet rids itself of what it doesn‘t like. Here we meet five “digital scavengers”, among thousands of people outsourced from Silicon Valley, whose job is to delete “inappropriate” content of the net. In a parallel struggle, we meet people around the globe whose lives are dramatically affected by online censorship. A typical “cleaner” must observe and rate thousands of often deeply disturbing images and videos every day, leading to lasting psychological impacts.

Field of Vision – The Moderators (2017)

*Graphic Content* 

In an office in India, a cadre of Internet moderators ensures that social media sites are not taken over by bots, scammers, and pornographers. The Moderators shows the humans behind content moderation, taking viewers into the training process that workers go through in order to become social media’s monitors.

Source: Field of Vision

Inside the Daily Life of a Live Streaming Star in China | Op-Docs (2021)

In China, live streaming services command an audience of nearly 560 million, with streamers broadcasting to devoted followers who tune in every night. Successful live streamers can earn thousands of dollars each month in direct donations from fans, and those at the very top earn millions from brand sponsorships and major contracts. In the short documentary above, we enter two agencies that scout promising newcomers and mold them into high-earning stars. But what’s it like working for a company that engineers every aspect of your life — and then requires you to livestream it all day?

Source: The New York Times

How the Pandemic is Making Pakistan’s Tech Industry More Equitable (2020)

The pandemic has got a bunch of us stuck at home for months. But for a niche-industry in Pakistan, this WFH situation is actually trumping some of the barriers women face when entering the workforce. 

Source: VICE

Why you should get paid for your data | Jennifer Zhu Scott (2020)

The world’s most valuable tech companies profit from the personal data you generate. So why aren’t you getting paid for it? In this eye-opening talk, entrepreneur and technologist Jennifer Zhu Scott makes the case for private data ownership — which would empower you to donate, destroy or sell your data as you see fit — and shows how this growing movement could put power (and cash) back into the hands of people.

 Source: TED

Getting Rich Off China’s Webcam Livestreaming Industry (Links to an external site.) (2018)

China is home to a rising number of professional live-streamers—webcam models who show off their talents, their faces, and their personalities to make a living. VICE China took an inside look at how some performers are making more than $100,000 during the modern-day gold rush.

Source: Vice China

Books & Articles

A Global Gig Economy (BBC, 2019)

Are freelancing sites threatening worker’s rights? Manuela Saragosa and Edwin Lane investigate the rise of platforms like Upwork, which allow anyone in the world with an internet connection to become a gig economy worker.

Dozens of companies are using Facebook to Exclude Older Workers from Job ads (2017)

Source: Pro Publica

Among the companies we found doing it: Amazon, Verizon, UPS and Facebook itself. “It’s blatantly unlawful,” said one employment law expert.

Race has played a role in Uber and Lyft¡s fight to preserve their business models (2020)

California voters are being bombarded with ads featuring smiling Black and brown faces championing Proposition 22, the initiative by Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and other gig companies that seeks to exempt them from a state law requiring them to treat drivers and delivery workers as employees.

By: Levi Sumagaysay

Source: Market Watch

‘Don’t game my paycheck’: Deliver workers say they’re being squuzed by ever-changing algorithms (2019)

When Ulysses Galves began working for Instacart last year, he easily made $700 a week ferrying groceries from supermarkets. He averaged about $18 an hour and even qualified for bonuses — an extra $200, say, for making 40 deliveries in a week. But within months, that began to change. Then it changed again. Now the 47-year-old Iraq War veteran from Silverdale, Wash., says he’s lucky to pull down $400 a week for the same 40 hours of work.

Source: Washinton Post

At The Mercy Of An App: Workers Feel The Instacart Squeeze (2019)

Source: NPR

Working for Instacart — buying and delivering groceries to strangers — at first felt like Michaellita Fortier’s childhood dream of starring on the speed-shopping TV show Supermarket Sweep. But then the app inundated her with orders worth half that, $7 or $9 per delivery. For that money, she was expected to go to the store, shop, fill a cart and deliver an order, sometimes driving 10 or 15 miles.

Meet the Original Renegade Dance Creator: Jalaiah Harmon (2020)

A 14-year-old in Atlanta created one of the biggest dances on the internet. But the one person who hasn’t been able to capitalize on the attention is Jalaiah, the Renegade’s 14-year-old creator. To be robbed of credit on TikTok is to be robbed of real opportunities. In 2020, virality means income: Creators of popular dances, like the Backpack Kid  or Shiggy , often amass large online followings and become influencers themselves. That, in turn, opens the door to brand deals, media opportunities and, most important for Jalaiah, introductions to those in the professional dance and choreography community.

New York Times

On-Demand and on-the-edge: Ride-hailing and Delivery Workers in San Francisco (2020)

A new survey of app-based ride-hailing and food and grocery-delivery workers in San Francisco underscores the financial vulnerability of workers in the gig economy—and the coronavirus has made their plight much worse.

Source: UC Santa Cruz.

An Analysis of the Labor Market for Uber’s Driver-Partners in the United States (2016)

Uber, the ride-sharing company launched in 2010, has grown at an exponential rate. This paper provides the first comprehensive analysis of the labor market for Uber’s driver-partners, based on both survey and administrative data.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research

Digital dead end: fighting for social justice in the information age (2011)

The idea that technology will pave the road to prosperity has been promoted through both boom and bust. Today we are told that universal broadband access, high-tech jobs, and cutting-edge science will pull us out of our current economic downturn and move us toward social and economic equality. In Digital Dead End, Virginia Eubanks argues that to believe this is to engage in a kind of magical thinking: a technological utopia will come about simply because we want it to.

Latinos and the Gig economy (2020)

Findings from a national public opinion poll found 41% of Latino adults have done gig work of some kind, and of those, three-quarters have done so in the last month.

Source: UnidosUs

Feminism, Labour and Digital Media: The Digital Housewife (2015) 

There is a contradiction at the heart of digital media. We use commercial platforms to express our identity, to build community and to engage politically. At the same time, our status updates, tweets, videos, photographs and music files are free content for these sites. We are also generating an almost endless supply of user data that can be mined, re-purposed and sold to advertisers. As users of the commercial web, we are socially and creatively engaged, but also labourers, exploited by the companies that provide our communication platforms. How do we reconcile these contradictions?

Feminism, Labour and Digital Media argues for using the work of Marxist feminist theorists about the role of domestic work in capitalism to explore these competing dynamics of consumer labor.

Heteromation, and Other Stories of Computing (2017) 

An exploration of a new division of labor between machines and humans, in which people provide value to the economy with little or no compensation.

Venture labor: Work and the burden of risk in innovative industries (2012)

Why employees of pioneering Internet companies chose to invest their time, energy, hopes, and human capital in start-up ventures. 

In the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, employees of Internet startups took risks—left well-paying jobs for the chance of striking it rich through stock options (only to end up unemployed a year later), relocated to areas that were epicenters of a booming industry (that shortly went bust), chose the opportunity to be creative over the stability of a set schedule.