Control and coordination through algorithms. How the Uber app shapes the work of drivers

What does the personalized Facebook Newsfeed have in common with the app underlying the work of Uber drivers? Algorithmic regulation – the control and coordination of individual behavior through algorithms – increasingly characterizes societal processes, as a new study by Weizenbaum researchers Florian Eyert, Florian Irgmaier and Lena Ulbricht shows.

Often in a subtle way, algorithmic regulation unfolds its impact by representing, evaluating and influencing individuals and social relations. In an exemplary form this potential is visible in the Uber Driver App, which determines rewards, aggregates customer evaluations and uses digital interfaces to influence behavior. With the app as "the boss", Uber drivers gain some amount of flexibility regarding when and where they work. However, contrary to the company's self-description as a neutral mediator, the app massively shapes the work of drivers, without providing the same rights and benefits as in pre-digital forms of labor.

While it is evident that digital technologies increasingly affect social control and coordination, there is little systematic research on the form and extent of this trend. Grand theories of surveillance capitalism and detailed case studies on diverse applications are rarely connected and there is little agreement on how digital technologies impact processes of social coordination, for instance regarding the autonomy of affected individuals. In their new contribution, Weizenbaum researchers Florian Eyert, Florian Irgmaier und Lena Ulbricht extend the concept of "algorithmic regulation" and develop a fine-grained and theoretically substantiated analytical framework. This analytical framework also allows to understand how Uber drivers are influenced through the app.

From this perspective it becomes clear that algorithmic regulation is more dynamic than pre-digital forms of control and coordination and makes it easier to combine different modes of influencing behavior. This, however, gives rise to a range of social problems which can only be understood and discussed adequately if the different dimensions of algorithmic regulation are analyzed. The newly published framework may therefore also inform future strategies for politically shaping labor conditions in the platform economy.

The paper entitled "Extending the framework of algorithmic regulation. The Uber case" has been published in the journal Regulation & Governance.

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