Chan, N.K. (2022). Algorithmic precarity and metric power: Managing the affective measures and customers in the gig economy. Big Data & Society, 9(2), 1–13.
doi:10.1177/20539517221133779 (→ PDF)
Drawing on a qualitative, multi-case study of three kinds of geographically tethered gig work—ride-hailing, delivery, and domestic services platforms—in the United States, I examine how workers anticipate the influences of metrics, live with metrics, and cope with algorithmic precarity. Data for this project include in-depth interviews with 50 gig workers about their efforts to interpret and manage metrics as part of their everyday work practices. The analysis reveals that participants were anxious about metrics primarily because of the disciplinary outcomes, that are, the threat of job loss and the valued job features. It also directs attention to how workers felt and experienced customer-sourced ratings and system-generated behavioral metrics variously across platforms. Information asymmetries and the perceived lack of control also intensified a sense of powerlessness among participants. While participants articulated strategies that aimed at managing the uncertainty of customer-sourced ratings—and more precisely, the work-related uncertainty created by “difficult customers”—throughout service interactions, their feelings of anxiety could not be resolved. Furthermore, the (in)visibility of metrics, the settings of platform-mediated worker–customer interactions, and workers’ platform dependence contributed to the varying disciplinary power of metrics. The study contributes to understanding how metrics as affective measures mediate the trilateral relationship between platforms, workers, and customers in the gig economy