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Riders need access to their data - and unions can help them

In this newsletter we have sought to highlight case studies of gig workers making use of data tools/expertise and legal challenges to unlock the 'black box' of the platform's algorithm. In particular, we have placed emphasis on the untapped potential for trade unions to play a significant role in providing these data tools to workers as a way to address the informational asymmetry between workers and platforms.

So we were pleased to see a new report this week by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) about exactly this topic. 'Exercising workers’ rights in algorithmic management systems' is authored by Claudio Agosti, Joanna Bronowicka, Alessandro Polidoro and Gaetano Priori. Three of the four authors are part of 'Tracking Exposed', an Italian software analysis project for activists and researchers.

The report is split into two parts. The first looks at the decision of the Italian Data Protection Authority (DPA) to fine Glovo €2.6 million in 2021 for violating its riders' data protection rights, the first data protection authority anywhere to do so. A Tribunal overturned the fine in 2022 on the basis that it was excessive, a decision which the DPA is appealing.

Why is the DPA verdict important? First, it found that Glovo's data collection on its riders breached seven GDPR rights, including that its automated decision-making system of profiling (called an 'Excellence Score') and allocating tasks (called 'Jarvis') were in breach of article 22 of GDPR on the basis that there are no "measures to safeguard the data subject’s rights and freedoms and legitimate interests, at least the right to obtain human intervention," the DPA found. Since all large food delivery platforms' are based on similar automated decision-making systems, this is a significant verdict.

Secondly, the DPA found that the riders should be considered employees because Glovo "manages the entire execution phase of the order". This is the first data protection authority to come to a conclusion on employment status based on an analysis of how the algorithm works, thus demonstrating how "national data protection authorities can play a key role in protecting and enforcing workers’ rights," the authors' find.

The second part of the report is a technical analysis of a Glovo rider's data, using a 'black-box testing' method, which is a form of reverse-engineering to see the data Glovo collects without having access to the source code. The research was conducted in three phases over 2021-2022.

The analysis found that Glovo collected data on the rider even when he was not working, including the location, the speed he is moving at, the battery level and whether the battery is being charged. Second, the rider's data was shared with third parties, including Firebase, a Google service for mobile businesses, and Braze, a marketing company, which received their email, phone number and location data. Third, it appears as if some sort of automated rating system was in operation, as a 'rating' of 4.5 was applied to the rider, while an 'experimental_score' gave a value of 32. It's not clear what these ratings mean but given what the DPA investigation revealed, one could deduce that it's part of the algorithm's 'Excellence Score'.

What does all of this mean? The findings back-up some of the breaches of GDPR rights identified in the DPA investigation, "including the principles of data minimisation, of fairness and transparency of data processing and of integrity and confidentiality".

"In short, the Glovo platform should properly inform riders of the role played by the Glovo Courier app in accessing, collecting and processing their data before they even install it on their private phones," the authors' write.

Additionally, four lessons are extracted from the Glovo case: 1) Black-box testing can be done without the knowledge or co-operation of the platform, and thus can be a useful tool in identifying GDPR violations in a context where platforms guard what data they collect on their workers very closely. The authors' acknowledge that block-box testing has its limitations. Most importantly that it "cannot provide conclusive evidence of data protection violations". However, it has the benefit of being "cheap" - mainly based on freely downloadable apps - and "quick" - taking a couple of days for a basic technical analysis. Because of that it is easily replicable and could be done many times, for instance in response to app updates.

2) Data Protection Authorities are capable of assessing whether algorithmic management systems are violating workers' rights and acting accordingly. The Italian Glovo investigation, which involved co-operation with the Spanish DPA, proves that this can be done even with multinational platforms that operate cross-border. 

3) Trade unions have the capacity and relationships which make them "uniquely positioned" to use these data analysis tools to help workers. This could include making data protection rules a "subject of collective bargaining". 

4) Combining the efforts of technical experts, DPAs and unions can "be a catalyst for synergies". While black-box testing can only provide part of the picture, if combined with other methods it can help to put all the pieces together.

While all of this can be done within the current regulatory context, the authors' point to Article 9 (3) of the European Parliament's Platform Work Directive proposal as a legislative change which would be a useful aid to these efforts. Article 9 (3) states that platform workers can be assisted by an expert in accessing their data, with the cost covered by any platform of a large-size. 

"Ultimately, the use of algorithmic management systems has exacerbated the existing power imbalance between workers and their employers," the authors' conclude. "Addressing this imbalance and safeguarding workers’ rights will require concerted efforts from researchers, public institutions, trade unions and policymakers alike, and most importantly from workers themselves."

Trade unions which remain sceptical about the value of investing time and money in these tools should keep in mind that algorithmic management systems are being introduced in many different sectors, not just the ones that have been 'gigified'. In the future it will be a given that unions have the capacity to help workers access, interpret and make use of their data - forward-thinking unions would be well advised to get ahead of the game.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • UK LABOUR PARTY HOLDS DELIVEROO EVENT WITH NO GIG WORKERS AND RECEIVES FUNDING FROM PLATFORM: The UK Labour Party's annual conference held an event on the gig economy sponsored by food delivery platform Deliveroo which did not have any gig worker among the speakers. The lack of a gig worker was also a feature of last year's event, which was also sponsored by Deliveroo, a UK-based platform. The speakers at this year's meeting were Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary,  Will Shu, the founder and CEO of Deliveroo, a representative from the GMB union and the Tony Blair Institute. Shu was asked about the omission, and said: “I don't know why there's not a representative. Maybe next time we can have [a gig economy worker].” Kendall said at the event that she backed an independent regulator for the gig economy. Labour recently abandoned plans for a single worker status, which would have scrapped the third status which some gig workers currently work under called 'limb (b)', which gives them some labour rights but not all. Taj Ali, industrial correspondent at Tribune, revealed that Deliveroo has funded two members of Labour's staff, saying it raised questions about whether the funding was linked to the recent policy change. Read more here
  • EX BELGIAN PLATFORM OWNER RISKS SUSPENDED PRISON SENTENCE IN FRANCE: A French criminal prosecutor has requested a 12 months suspended prison sentence and €30.000 fine for Adrien Roose, former owner of food delivery platform Take Eat Easy, which closed in 2016. He is accused of "concealed work", with the intent to defraud, between 2014 and 2016. The reason for this accusation is that the 3000 riders working with Take Eat Easy under an independent status were not allowed to refuse deliveries that the algorithm assigned to them. The platform operated a system of warnings which could lead to a courier being banned if they didn't comply. Roose defended the system, saying it was to avoid a “brutal” termination of the contract. He also argued that he was not aware of most of the control practices, seeking to shift the blame to other members of his staff. The court will deliver its verdict on the 30th of November. Read more here. (Report by Piero Valmassoi)
  • BRIGHTON UBER DRIVERS' STRIKE: A 24-hour strike of Uber drivers' took place in Brighton, UK on Saturday [14 October]. Isaac, one of the drivers, said that the drivers were "not happy with the pricing policy of Uber, which we believe is unfair due to high commission rates and some other factors." A protest was held and the drivers' called on customers to boycott the app for one day. The drivers' have established a petition with a series of demands, including for "fare transparency", saying they are "often left in the dark regarding the breakdown of fares, making it difficult for us to understand how our earnings are calculated. We demand that Uber provide clear and transparent information on fare calculations to ensure fairness and trust between the company and its drivers." Uber began rolling-out it's 'dynamic pricing' model of pay in the UK at the start of the year. Dynamic pricing de-links pay from distance travelled and instead basis it on a wider variety of data inputs unknown to the worker, which include the historic personal data of the driver. The petition also calls for a reduction in Uber's commission, a higher cancellation fee for drivers and a fairer system for holiday pay, among other demands. Read more here.
  • FUNDING APPEAL FOR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION OF UBER EATS SPAIN: The Observatory of Work, Algorithms and Society, a coalition of riders' campaign group RidersXDerechos and taxi union Elité Taxi Barcelona, is appealing to the public for funds to proceed with a criminal prosecution against Uber Eats Spain for false self-employment. The criminal complaint made by the Observatory last month has been admitted by the courts but €10,000 is required to pursue a private prosecution, in a case which will also include the Spanish Government's prosecutors' office. The money is required within a week. The Observatory has launched a similar case against Glovo, Spain's largest food delivery platform, but the courts have not yet confirmed whether they will admit that complaint. Both Glovo and Uber Eats hire riders on a freelance basis despite the Rider Law, which established a legal presumption of employment in the food delivery sector, coming into effect in August 2021. The Government changed the Penal Code last year to make fake self-employment a criminal offense, meaning food delivery platform executives could potentially go to jail and/or face fines. Unai Cerdo, general secretary of one of Spain's big two unions, CCOO, said on Thursday that he backed the criminal prosecutions after company fines did not bring the platforms' into line, stating: “When you start talking about prison sentences, things change."  Read more here
  • FLINK TO CLOSE IN FREIBURG JUST AS WORKS' COUNCIL WAS TO BE ESTABLISHED: 50 couriers in the German city of Freiburg were told on Friday [13 October] that they were being made redundant and that Flink was exiting the city, just as the riders were set to vote on whether to establish a Works' Council. A Flink rider told the Gig Economy Project that he believes the decision to close was linked to the looming prospect of a Works' Council, as the Freiburg hub was profitable and one of the best performing in southern Germany. The date of the announcement of the closure was the same as when the vote, which had been scheduled for weeks, was due to take place. A Works' Council gives workers' official representation in the company, including consultation on any significant changes to company operations. Flink, a German grocery delivery platform, was also subject to an attempt to establish a Works' Council in Berlin, but many of the key organisers were fired in what the riders said was a clear "union-busting" exercise.
  • FRENCH TAXI DRIVERS SUE UBER IN FRANCE OVER UNFAIR COMPETITION: France's traditional taxi sector is seeking €455 million in damages from Uber, accusing the Silicon Valley giant of unfair competition. The legal action, which is backed by 2,480 taxi drivers, comes after the Court of Cassation found the existence of an employment relationship between Uber and its drivers. The taxis say that Uber has therefore not been applying French labour and tax law, and thus are engaging in unfair competition. The drivers' believe they are owed €9,300 each per year from Uber as a consequence, plus damages. Before the court case began on Friday [13 October[, the drivers' lawyer, Cedric Dubucq, said that they "intend to demonstrate that Uber has set up a system where illegality has been established as an operating principle, a system where violation of the law is used as a way to trample over the market, to the detriment of competition." An Uber spokesperson said: "This action goes against the interest of an entire sector and drivers who wish to remain independent." Read more here.
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Soumyajit Saha reports in The Economic Times on a strike of thousands of riders in Mumbai, India.

Upcoming events

- WageIndicator is hosting an online conference on 'A Level Playing Field for Gig Workers', 27 October. Click here for full details and to register.

Know of upcoming events we should be highlighting? Let us know at

Get Involved

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for workers' rights in the gig economy.

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at or send a direct message to the Twitter: @project_gig.

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