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The Gig Economy Is Failing. Say Hello to the Hustle Economy. | by Caitlin Dewey | Jul, 2020

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TThe Covid-19 pandemic crushed vast swaths of the economy, slashing consumer demand, closing businesses, and vaporizing millions of jobs. But it’s been good to the nascent sliver of the digital economy that helps people channel their existing skills into sellable services and products.

Such products range from ebooks and meal plan templates to online classes, podcasts, membership clubs, newsletters, and porn. They proliferate on platforms including Patreon, Twitch, Substack, Etsy, Teachable, Knowable, Podia, Thinkific, Supercast, Lulu, Smashwords, Outschool, OnlyFans, and Gumroad.

These platforms generally take a cut of each sale made, ranging from 5% to 50%, or charge a recurring fee to sellers for accessing their market. Tech investors have dubbed this the “passion economy,” a place where anyone can profit doing what she loves. But because that term risks both exaggerating the payoffs of this work and obscuring its ties to the gig economy, the last great labor “disruption,” we might better call it the “hustle economy:” an online labor market in which platform-dependent workers create and monetize their own digital products. Like Uber drivers or Instacart shoppers, workers in the hustle economy need a platform to succeed. But their work is individualized, self-directed, and on their own schedule — one “creator” can’t substitute for another.

The hustle economy is also not new. Since the late 1990s, tech futurists like the former Wired editor Kevin Kelly have predicted that social networking and online payment platforms would open up a range of new, and newly fulfilling, career choices. Writing in the Harvard Business Review in 1998, the organizational theorist Thomas W. Malone claimed “electronic networks” would dissolve the corporation as the main unit of the economy, and replace it with “flexible, temporary networks of individuals” who self-select their work. The next decade saw dozens of platforms launch with some version of that goal, from Upwork to Etsy and Kickstarter.

In 2017, the economic advisory firm Sonecon estimated that nearly 17 million Americans made some money off digital platforms. And since then, argues Li Jin, a former analyst at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, a wave of new startups has launched to capitalize on this “model of internet-powered entrepreneurship.”

To Jin, hustle economy platforms represent an opportunity to commoditize a once-worthless or near-worthless resource — think bottled water. Every person on earth has some deep knowledge or experience or skill in something, she argues. If platforms can funnel that into a product that consumers want, then the value of the hustle economy balloons into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

“Anyone with noncommoditized skills can do this,” Jin told OneZero.

For workers, the premise of hustle economy work is equally seductive. Just like gig work, you can choose your own hours. But with the hustle economy, you can really be your own boss, and spend time only on projects you like and feel proud of. While both the gig economy and conventional employment “stripped workers of their autonomy and agency,” Jin said, hustle economy platforms “empower” them. The movement’s rhetoric often, and ironically, echoes Karl Marx: Only liberated workers with control of production can soak up the full spiritual and financial benefits of their labor.

Better yet, in the midst of a protracted economic crisis, hustle economy work offers a safety net — a second income independent of a corporate employer, or even the physical environment. If Patreon and its ilk once promised flexibility or the chance to “do what you love,” they now also promise workers like Amit Levit a paycheck the next crisis can’t interrupt.

Levit, an instructor at Boston’s 305 Fitness, a cardio-dance studio, launched a Patreon in March on the advice of her employer, who couldn’t pay salaries during the shutdown. Though she loves the studio, Levit now plans to keep teaching on Patreon: “I am looking to move toward having two strings of income,” she said, “rather than just the one I had before.”

“People see how fragile their connection to the economy is. Their job could go at any second,” said Len Markidan, the chief marketing officer at Podia, a hustle economy platform that helps its workers set up classes, newsletters, storefronts, and other products. One of its marquee names, the physical therapist Emma Shapiro, has built an empire teaching other health care workers how to create hustles of their own.

In the past three months, Markidan added, “the baseline for this industry accelerated by 10 years.” His company hit benchmarks it didn’t expect to meet until 2026 or 2027. Economists say they’re not surprised by those figures: Workers often flock to “alternative” work during economic downturns.

But if the pandemic also acclimates consumers to new digital products — and new relationships with the workers who make them — then the shift could prove more permanent, said Susan Houseman, a labor economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

“This time could be different,” Houseman said. “It’s a temporary crisis, at least until we have herd immunity or a vaccine or some kind of treatment… but the way people do business is going to change. We’re already seeing that.”

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Food delivery deaths: NSW transport minister criticised for ‘victim blaming’ | Gig economy

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The New South Wales transport minister, Andrew Constance, has been criticised for “victim-blaming” comments made about the recent deaths of delivery riders.

Five delivery riders have been killed in road crashes in Australia since 27 September, an average of one every 11 days. In Sydney, two Uber Eats riders were killed in separate crashes on Saturday morning and Monday evening.

The minister told reporters on Tuesday morning that food delivery companies needed to provide more reflective equipment, but that riders themselves had “a degree of self-responsibility” to “make sure that they are highly visible”.

The head of the Bicycle Network, Craig Richards, said there was no evidence any of the riders who died were not wearing enough reflective clothing.

He said the government’s taskforce into the deaths – announced on Tuesday – needed an urgent deadline, otherwise more people would die while waiting for its recommendations.

Daniel Mookhey, a NSW Labor MP who is chairing the current inquiry into the gig economy, said the government should act now.

“There is massive risk of more people dying riding for gig platforms before we hear anything from the taskforce,” he said.

“I’m disappointed the minister failed to set a deadline for the taskforce to finish its work. We haven’t even seen its terms of reference.”

Mookhey said the government could make an “emergency workplace health and safety regulation for food riders in the gig economy” while waiting for the taskforce.

He also confirmed he would consider speeding up the findings of the current inquiry, if the taskforce lagged behind.

“If the state government doesn’t take any meaningful action, I’m open to the inquiry fast-tracking its WHS and workers compensation recommendations,” he said. “Someone has to act.”

Richards said any timeframe longer than five months would make the taskforce pointless.

“In other workplaces, if five people were killed, you’d be on to it in a beat,” he said. “If it is six months, then no – we already have a parliamentary inquiry doing that.

“Tell us next week, if there are recommendations to be made, do it fast. We don’t want to rush, but at the moment, we have a concentration of fatalities, so we want to make sure we do everything we can.”

He said that Constance’s earlier comments on the deaths were “victim-blaming”.

On Tuesday morning, prior to the taskforce announcement, Constance said: “I have asked the agency to contact the companies – more must be done in terms of the reflective equipment that they are wearing. It wouldn’t matter if it is the actual bag they are carrying, or the clothes that they are wearing. We want to make sure that they increase their visibility on the roads.”

When asked whether he would support a Labor bill to mandate protections for workers, he said: “I think the key element is: let’s work with the companies on a solution. You know, and also the riders themselves, there has got to be a degree of self-responsibility to make sure that they are highly visible. So, you have got to find a good landing in that place.”

The minister also said that while the circumstances of each crash was different, “generally I think we would all acknowledge that they are getting around the city typically in the night hours”.

Richards said there was no evidence that any of the riders who died were not wearing enough reflective or visible clothing.

The most recent fatal crashes in Sydney occurred at 11am and 6.40pm respectively.

“We have had five people who have lost their lives, to suggest that it was their fault for not wearing a vest – we don’t know that,” he said.

“At this stage we don’t know if they were wearing one or not. It is a horrible thought to suggest.”

He also criticised the minister for not telling motorists or car drivers to be more careful.

“It puts all the onus on the person riding,” he said. “The evidence shows that fluorescent vests don’t make a difference in that regard. People think you put one of these fluorescent vests on and you are bulletproof, and it solves all your problems.”

A spokeswoman for Constance did not answer questions on whether the taskforce had a deadline.

“Every death on our road is a tragedy,” she said. “It’s going to take work on all sides, from industry, individuals and government, to ensure the safety of delivery riders. We want to do everything possible as a government to ensure everyone is safe on our roads and at work.”

But Mookhey said the new taskforce “seems to have no additional powers”.

“SafeWork NSW has immense power, but hasn’t used them. Usually, when a person dies on the job, SafeWork NSW closes their workplace until they’re confident it’s safe.”

Richards said that drivers’ awareness of cyclists was important.

“It just makes more people realise: ‘When I am driving a vehicle, I better look out’. Whether a person is delivering food or riding for leisure. That is the classic mistake people make, they don’t look.”

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Navigating the gig economy: finding success as a freelancer – Richmond.com

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Gig-economy click farms surge during Covid-19

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Underground businesses that employ real people to facilitate fraudulent services such as fake clicks, CAPTCHA hacking and traffic inflation have seen a surge of interest in the past six months as the world has been plunged into a global recession, according to a report by fraud detection firm ClickCease.

While the dark web has copious fraud on offer, those looking to take advantage of these services need not look beyond the open web. Searching for ‘buy bot traffic for website’ or ‘buy clicks for website’ in major search engines yields tens of thousands of results. Many of these fraud instigators actually pay search engines to feature first in such search terms.

Fraudsters employ techniques of varying sophistication to facilitate this fraud, such as infecting devices with malware, taking over or spoofing IP addresses, and employing bots to generate clicks. But a new report from ClickCease has uncovered a growing economy of fraudulent marketplaces that pay real people to click on ads.

These sites operate in a similar way to gig-economy firms like TaskRabbit, employing a roster of tens of thousand of freelance workers to complete tasks. But instead of cleaning houses or assembling furniture, these workers are asked to click on ads, download apps and complete CAPTCHAs, and can earn US$100 per month to do so.

During Covid-19, such fraud marketplaces have offered a source of income to the millions of people who have been let go or found themselves in trying financial circumstances. According to ClickCease’s report, the majority of workers at such fraudulent sites come from low-income countries including India and Vietnam.

ClickCease co-founder Ilan Missulawin noted: “The underground ad click economy is only increasing in scale due to minimal enforcement and the challenges of Covid-19, as more people are being enlisted to make money without having to leave their homes.”

The 20 most prominent Pay to Click (PTC) sites, including Paidvert ScartletClicks and PTCShare, claim to have paid out more than US$13.2 million to online freelancers working in this gig economy, ClickCease found. With each worker paid 5 cents a click, this equates to 266 million ads clicked, ClickCease reports.

Traffic to these sites has surged in the past six months, ClickCease reports. One of the largest sites, NeoBux, has reached a peak of 9 million visitors per month. ScarletClicks achieved a 41% increase in traffic within six months to 1.3 million visits in September 2020. PTC Share has seen a 13% increase in traffic to 1.2 million visits a month.

Some sites offer the ability to evade detection by buying “safe” clicks. For example, Fivesquid offers $5 packages to deliver certain amounts of “safe” AdSense Clicks, such as real human visitors from the US, groups of clicks where the ‘user’  spends a minimum amount of time on a site, and clicks spaced out across a day.

Despite the fact that these sites violate Google’s terms and conditions, several vendors freely advertise on Google’s paid search terms for keywords such as “organic clicks”. For instance, Serpclix in its ad “discusses a pool of thousands of microworkers to optimize your organic CTRs and boost rankings”.

Clicks is one of the easiest advertising metrics to game. ClickCease has found that at least 15% of clicks on pay-per-click (PPC) ads through contracts with online advertising platforms, most notably Google, are invalid.

Beyond clicks, workers are employed to solve CAPTCHA verification tests, which are used to determine whether a user is a human or a robot.

One CAPTCHA-solving farm, 2Captcha, offers to solve 1,000 CAPTCHAS for $0.77 and claims to have more than 2,000 workers online at any one time. Deathbycaptcha.com offers solving rates at $1.39 per 1,000. 

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