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When Your Boss Is an App

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The platforms all these workers use vary so widely in their rules and structures that it’s difficult to pin down the boundaries of the modern gig economy. Some platforms are backed by Silicon Valley venture capital and have global ambitions, while others compete in smaller markets or specific industries. Some use workers to fulfill discrete tasks for customers, while others connect labor with traditional employers, taking on the role of a staffing agency. Some allow workers to pick and choose assignments without consequence, while others penalize them for not logging on or for declining tasks. A lawyer on Upwork can set his or her own rates and negotiate directly with clients, but shift-working platforms generally post jobs with a rate already established. For many delivery and driving platforms, rates vary, per service, according to closely protected algorithms that leave income uncertain. Each of these details can have profound impacts on the daily lives of workers. Even in high-income jobs, platforms are in a position to mediate disputes and control access to work; with…

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