The Future of Work: For Uber Drivers, Data Is the Boss
The latest entry in a special project in which business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace.
It can be tough being a human in a machine’s world. Over six months, my colleague Luke Stark and I have been studying how workplace automation affects Uber drivers. What we’ve found, in online forums and interviews, isn’t always pretty.
Uber clearly benefits many riders, who can command a car with ease from their smartphone. Riders often pay less than for a taxi, and they can easily give feedback about the driver. For drivers, it’s easy to get started, the hours are flexible, and the pay can be satisfying.
But Uber’s emphasis on managing remotely can raise issues of fairness. Rather than having managers who listen to them and deliver feedback, drivers are managed through monitoring and rating systems delivered by semi-automated messaging. Uber says it’s just an app, not the drivers’ employer. Yet, this claim belies the significant control Uber exerts over their behavior through electronic management and performance metrics.