(Relative) Freedom in Algorithms: How Digital Platforms Repurpose Workplace Consent

Lindsey Cameron, Management, The Wharton School

Abstract: This research explores how a new relation of production—specifically, the shift from human to algorithms as managers on digital platforms—reconfigures and repurposes workplace consent. Drawing on a five-year qualitative study of the ridehailing industry, I describe how workers navigate being managed by an algorithm. I begin by showing how algorithms segment the work at multiple sites of human-algorithm interactions. While some research suggests that this segmentation creates a hyper-monitored environment system that stifles workers’ discretion, I find that the reconfiguration of the work process actually allows for more frequent choice. These choices, which I label engaging, deviating, and flexing, while narrow, are real and ultimately and ultimately do the work of manufacturing consent in the on-demand workplace. Yet due to the fungible nature of the algorithm management system and the independent contractor work arrangement, consent is more fragile than previously theorized.