Majority of gig economy workers ‘feel threatened by review websites’

Gig economy workers face another threat to their wages – the double-edged sword of online criticism, a study has found.

Academics have shown how tech companies are making the problem worse, leaving dozens of workers in fear of their future earnings.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Bristol and the University of Oxford, analyzed the reputation systems of some of the biggest gig economy platforms, such as Upwork and Fiverr, which use the customer feedback to produce ratings.

He found that the algorithms – processes used to rank workers based on performance metrics – lack transparency and are highly volatile, leaving workers vulnerable to wayward and malicious clients.

This study is important as tech companies continue to rewire the social fabric of our lives and as platforms’ rating and reputation systems become increasingly pervasive beyond the gig economy.

Professor Vili Lehdonvirta

The results revealed that seven out of 10 freelancers working remotely worldwide were concerned that customers would provide unfair feedback and negatively affect their future earnings.

Lead author Dr Alex Wood, a Bristol Business School sociologist, said: ‘It was shocking to see how workers expressed continued concern about the potential consequences of receiving just one bad grade from an unfair or malicious customer. , and how that might prevent them from continuing to earn a living. »

He said the situation was creating a growing trend of ‘reputational insecurity’ within the workforce, where self-employed contract workers are experiencing greater instability and concerns about future access to work .

The fleeting nature of reviews also means some workers have resorted to unpaid overtime or even entire jobs for free in a desperate attempt to avoid negative ratings, the study found.

Dr Wood said: “We found that some workers continued to do free reviews for customers to ensure customer satisfaction and favorable feedback.

“Others canceled the contract and provided their work for free if they felt the client was unhappy and might leave a detrimental rating.”

The study found that companies were operating without checks and balances to verify ratings and effective processes for seeking redress and corrections were also lacking.

Study co-author Professor Vili Lehdonvirta, from the University of Oxford, added: “This study is important as tech companies continue to rewire the social fabric of our lives and the systems of assessment and platform reputations are becoming increasingly ubiquitous beyond the gig economy.

“Addressing these processes of reputational insecurity will not only be a significant policy effort to improve gig work, but also the wider platform economy.”

The academics conducted qualitative interviews in major cities, including London, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Manila.

They also analyzed surveys of nearly 900 gig economy workers from the UK and Europe.

– The study, Platforms disrupting reputation: precarity and recognition fights in the remote gig economy, is published in the journal Sociology.

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