The Algorithmic Panopticon at Deliveroo: measurement, precarity, and the illusion of control

Woodcock, Jamie (2020). The Algorithmic Panopticon at Deliveroo: measurement, precarity, and the illusion of control. Ephemera: theory & politics in organizations, 20(3) pp. 67–95.

URL: http://www.ephemerajournal.org/contribution/algori...

Abstract

Deliveroo is a food delivery platform that allows customers to order food from restaurants and have it delivered via a smartphone app. It uses a similar business model to Uber, effectively outsourcing the costs and risks of the operation onto workers. New platforms like these utilise digital surveillance to measure and control workers through their smartphones. Although algorithms have become a popular topic of research, less is known about how these are experienced by workers and how effective they are at overcoming the indeterminacy of the labour process at work. This article draws on a workers’ inquiry methodology – including observation, interviewing, and co-research – to explore these questions from the perspective of the worker. It traces the development of supervision, from the panopticon in the factory, to the electronic panopticon in the call centre, and applies this as the algorithmic panopticon at Deliveroo. The analysis highlights how this managerial technique relies upon illusions of control and freedom, drawing attention to the double precarity present for both the workers and the platform.

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