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The Gig Economy and the case of Split Identities

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The gig economy is exploding these days, especially in the wake of the global virus outbreak. According to the Bureau of Labor projections, the portion of gig economy workers will increase
to 43%
 in 2020. Among millennials, 40% have identified as participating in the gig economy.

Gig economy means transitory jobs. Rideshare drivers, work-from-home graphic designers, temporary customer service agents.  While most are part-time jobs, they are quite stable while they last. In times of economic crisis, some gig economy jobs may disappear
altogether, and some – such as delivery services in the current crisis – see a huge uplift in demand.

The surge in a freelancer economy has left many organizations that provide these services struggling with a new phenomenon: their freelancers are sharing their digital account with someone else. Why is this happening now more than ever? Due to the current
economic climate, people are anxious to earn more income. Their digital identity is suddenly quite valuable as they have been verified and vetted and allowed to engage in whatever service the gig economy company is allowing them to do. But as 24/7 work is
impossible, the notion of sharing their account with family, friends or other interested parties to continue generating income in an economic downturn is appealing, and a very real phenomenon happening today.

This makes a lot of sense from an individual perspective. These are difficult times, and the extra income shouldn’t be anybody’s business. However, taken from the larger perspective of society, this creates a major trust and safety issue. Think about your
favorite ridesharing app: You order a ride, step into the car, and find a completely different driver behind the wheel.

Or think about a call center service that operates on behalf of Fortune 500 companies. Lockdowns mean that most customer service agents are now working from home. Who can say whether an agent who punched in 12 hours per day is really working two shifts,
or just shared her account with a friend?  A friend who is not properly trained, has not signed an NDA, and not authorized to have access to your private data?

Or consider a high-ranking web developer who provides online services as a freelancer, earning top dollar for projects. As a way to generate additional income, he “rents” his identity to unvetted freelancers so they can enjoy access to top paying jobs, and
he gets a commission in exchange. You’re paying premium dollars for work that, in fact, isn’t done by the top ranked freelancer at all.

Trust is a key component in work-from-home environments, and when identity controls are broken, you can trust no one.

When digital accounts are misused and shared, there are far reaching implications. Lack of accountability. Lack of attribution. Impact on reputation when foul play is discovered. And, quite often, trust and safety concerns.

Devices Can’t Be Trusted

The verdict on passwords as a way to authenticate a digital identity has been decided ages ago: absolutely untrustworthy. Which is why in the last two decades, online and mobile applications found a great way to handle digital identities: the idea of the
Trusted Device. The premise of “something you have” became synonymous with digital identity. If you come from a device that has been seen before in your account, it must be you. Furthermore, once you verify your device via a one-time passcode, it becomes a
trusted device. A token of your identity. As long as you log in from your “trusted” device, it’s got to be you.

The reality is that this is no longer true.  Quite far from it, actually. Cybercriminals have found so many ways to bypass device checks that it is scary to even list all of them here. And that’s only half of the problem: People now use multiple devices
with the average household owning 11 connected devices. The fact you come from a new device does not
mean it’s not you.

So traditional ‘what you know’ and ‘what you have’ are not really reliable measures to help gig economy companies control their identities. How about biometrics?

Selfies and Fingerprints to the Rescue?

Selfies and fingerprints are becoming mainstream authenticators. But when you think about it, if your device recognizes you based on a fingerprint or face recognition, it’s basically proof that the device knows you, but not proof that you are who you claim
you are. Unless the face image or fingerprint are matched against a central database or a separate document that can be independently validated, all they really mean is that the device recognizes the person who has set it up.

Moreover, fingerprint and face biometrics are even less effective in addressing the gig economy identity split problem because you can easily add more fingerprints to your iPhone or Android device – after all, they were originally designed as a convenience
factor. So if you want your iPhone to be unlocked by your spouse and kids, knock yourself out. It’s wide open. The same goes for face recognition – you can add a second face that your device would recognize as legit, which is especially useful nowadays when
people walk around with face masks. So no, if someone is willingly sharing their account with a friend or family member in order to boost their freelancer profits, device-based biometrics are the least of their problems.

Clandestine Biometrics

What if the biometric analysis is done behind the scenes, though?

Several types of passive biometrics have been developed and perfected over the course of the last few years. In a call center environment, it is now possible to continuously record and match the agent’s voice against their historic profile. If an anomaly
is found, it can be investigated.

In web and mobile applications, behavioral biometrics is the new queen. Behavioral biometrics silently monitors the user interaction – mouse motions, typing patterns, cognitive choices and navigational preferences. Behavioral biometrics is not designed to
replace a password; in fact, it’s actually interesting to see how one types their password. But it does provide continuous monitoring and can point to anomalies in user behavior. It’s also less intrusive than matching fingerprints and faces, because those
can actually trace a person and – if stored in a central reposiroty – can be compromised and traded, while behavioral biometrics are more statistical in nature and used to verify that the behavior in the account matches past behaviors and no foul play is spotted;
it was never designed as a way to trace a specific individual and can’t be used as an identifier.

Account sharing is one of the things behavioral biometrics can highlight. Banks already found out it’s the only way to really know about, say, users of corporate online banking services who share their credentials with coworkers. Which, from a bank’s perspective,
creates a serious breach of confidence as their actions cannot be attributed to a single, personally accountable identity.

Back to the gig economy. So what’s wrong with someone trying to make a few extra bucks by sharing their work from home account with friends and family? For the worker, it is seemingly harmless and not done with bad intentions. However, for the organizations
that operate gig services this is an opening to incredible risk. When a digital identity is split, they lose all means of control. There is no way to really know who is providing the service, whether they have been vetted, or maybe even disqualified for some
reason and came back under a different identity of someone who was willing to share the account with them.

Identity is extremely important, and splitting it through account sharing creates significant risk. It’s time for gig economy businesses to re-think digital identity and models for building trust and safety.

 

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Economy

Deconstructing the gig economy | Yield PRO

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With control of Congress and the White House, Democrats are making labor policy one of their first priorities. Ironically enough, that’s actually bad news for independent contractors and gig economy workers across the country.

The legislation at the core of their agenda is the PRO Act, which Democrats just re-introduced with sponsors including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer. Among many other things, the bill would severely restrict the legal definition of independent contractors in a way that would largely end the gig economy as we know it.

The legislators’ stated intention is to protect workers and bolster their rights under law. Through the reclassification of independent contractors, Democrats hope to force gig economy companies to hire workers as full employees and thus provide them the accompanying salaries and benefits.

“The men and women of labor are the backbone of our economy and the foundation of our strength,” Pelosi said. “With American workers seeing their lives and livelihoods devastated by the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis, the reintroduction of the PRO Act is more important than ever.

“I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation to put more money in the pockets of hard-working Americans, creating a foundation that provides livable wages to our families,” Schumer added.

The context here is crucial, because this legislation isn’t coming out of nowhere. It’s modeled after a similar but highly controversial California bill, AB 5, that likewise forced the reclassification of independent contractors.

President Biden supported AB 5 at the time, and is on the record supporting the PRO Act, too. And now that Democrats control Congress, it could pass the House and find support from the White House.

The only question would be whether it could make it through the closely-divided Senate.

It’s worth examining the sweeping impact this legislation would have on the economy.

Millions of jobs outlawed with the stroke of the pen

The PRO Act would outlaw millions of existing jobs with the stroke of the president’s pen.

After all, it would make illegal any independent contractor arrangement where the worker provides services within “the usual course of the business of the employer,” meaning jobs like Uber drivers, Doordash drivers, Instacart grocery deliverers, and more could not exist as we know them. There are roughly 10.6 million independent contractors in the US, accounting for 6.9 percent of all employment. Some of these workers might not be affected by the law and some others may get hired on as full-time as a result. But there’s little doubt that millions more would find themselves unemployed.

For example, Uber alone employs more than 1 million drivers in the US. It’s nearly certain they would all lose their jobs under the PRO Act, because Uber already runs a loss, not a profit, and adding an independent contractor as a full staff member counts roughly $3,625 per driver. Basic math tells you that most of these workers would end up being let go; Uber could even go under. After all, the California legislation nearly forced Uber and Lyft to shut down operations in the Golden State altogether until a last-minute ballot referendum modified the law.

Uber is just one company and one example. But freelance workers such as journalists, photographers, florists, musicians and more all lost work in California under legislation similar to the PRO Act.

“Transcription allowed me to stay at home, be my own boss, and control my workflow and whom I work with,” 72-year-old transcriptionist Dori Lehner told the Independent Women’s Forum. “I only have one direct client now, and I only get work when they have it. My income has dropped down to a quarter of what it was before AB5.”

“A mom-and-pop studio can’t hire me and put me on payroll for a one or two hour lecture that I do once per month,” part-time yoga instructor Jennifer O’Connell said.

“That’s wiped out so much work,” she added, explaining that she’s lost roughly three-fourths of her freelance income.

The authors of AB 5 and the PRO Act likely earnestly believed they were going to help workers like Lehner and O’Connell. But the ugly results of their policy naivete will leave many like them unemployed instead.

Unintended consequences always plague big government regulation

The lesson here is clear. The Democrats’ latest labor proposal is a case study in unintended consequences, which inevitably plague big-government interventions into a vast and diverse economy.

“Economic policies need to be analyzed in terms of the incentives they create, rather than the hopes that inspired them,” famed free-market economist Thomas Sowell wrote. “The programs that are being labeled for the poor, for the needy, almost always have effects exactly the opposite of those which their well-intentioned sponsors hope them to have.”

“It’s not enough… to endorse legislation that has a nice title and promises to do something good,” economist Robert P. Murphy wrote. “People need to think through the full consequences of a policy, because often it will lead to a cure worse than the disease.”

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer clearly haven’t thought this through. If the PRO Act becomes law, it won’t help independent workers—it will eliminate their jobs or strip them of the flexibility that attracted them to the gig economy in the first place.


Source Brad Polumbo, fee.org

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EU launches gig economy consultation

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The European Commission has launched a six-week consultation with unions and employer bodies on how to improve working conditions for digital platform workers.

On 24 February 2021, the European Commission launched the first phase of its consultation on working conditions for digital platform workers in the gig economy.

The consultation comes as the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the digital transformation of the European economy and the expansion of the platform model: 11% of the EU workforce say they have already provided services through a platform. It will tackle particular areas of concern around health and safety and limited access to social protection and benefits for platform workers.

European trade unions and employers’ bodies will be asked to give their views on the following questions:

  • Do you consider that the European Commission has correctly and sufficiently identified the issues and the possible areas for EU action?
  • Do you consider that EU action is needed to effectively address the identified issues and achieve the objectives presented?
  • If so, should the action cover all people working in platforms, whether workers or self-employed? Should it focus on specific types of digital labour platforms, and if yes which ones?
  • If EU action is deemed necessary, what rights and obligations should be included in that action? Do the objectives presented in this document present a comprehensive overview of actions needed?
  • Would you consider initiating a dialogue under Article 155 TFEU on any of the issues identified in this consultation?

(Article 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides for dialogue between employers and labour unions or representatives)

The consultation will be in two stages, and the results will feed into the legislative initiative on platform work which the EU has promised by the end of 2021.

The consultation document is available here.

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EU takes step to help ‘gig’ economy workers

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Belgium: The European Commission launched a public consultation to look into the legal employment status and conditions of gig economy workers (a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs).

It is the bloc’s first step aimed at improving the rights of such workers, who work through digital labour platforms, such as ride-hailing or food-delivery apps.

Uber, Just Eat and Deliveroo are among some of the digital platforms used by gig economy workers in Europe.

Such platforms have been particularly in-demand during the coronavirus pandemic, as consumers turned online during lockdowns across the EU.

The gig economy debate
The gig economy allows for flexible working conditions, as well as “job opportunities and additional revenue, including for people who might find it more difficult to enter the traditional labour market,” the commission said on Wednesday.

But companies working in the sector are frequently accused of taking advantage of the self-employed status of workers to avoid covering social security payments and other benefits.

Courts in the UK and Spain have already overruled “self-employed” claims from some companies in the sector.
On Wednesday, Italy followed suit.
Prosecutors told Uber Eats, Glovo, Just Eat and Deliveroo in Italy their couriers were employees and not independent workers.

The companies were fined €733 million ($892 million) for a breach of labour safety rules. The more than 60,000 couriers must be offered non-permanent contracts with fixed pay, the Milan prosecutors’ office said in a statement.

What will the EU consultation do?
The first phase of the EU initiative will see six-week consultations with trade unions and employer organisations about their views on improving working conditions.
If labour and business representatives choose not to enter negotiations on the issue, there will be a second round of consultations on possible measures the EU could take.
If the two sides still do not come to the table after that, then the commission said it will “put forward an initiative by the end of the year.”   
Uber said it plans to work with policymakers and social groups on the proposal.       

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