Tech support

Technology rights are workers’ rights: Doordash edition


Doordash workers are involved in a bitter labor dispute with the company: involved, advice on which the “Dashers” depend to make the difference between a living wage and the poor house. Doordash has a long history of employee tip abuse; including a particularly ugly case brought by the Washington, DC Attorney General, was not settled until Doordash reimbursed millions of tips stolen from Dashers.

Doordash maintains that its workers are “independent contractors” who can choose from the delivery jobs available at any time, depending on the expected pay. Given the disproportionate role that tips play in paying Dashers, you’d think the company would tell workers how much tip their customers offered for each job.

But this is not the case. Although customers enter their tips when placing their orders, the amount is hidden from the drivers until they finish the job – turning each shipment into a casino game where the dealer knows the payment up front but the worker only finds out if he or she has made or lost money on a delivery after it has been completed.

Dashers aren’t stupid – nor are they technologically unsophisticated. The dashers made extensive use of Para, an app that inspected Doordash’s shipping orders and allowed drivers to preview offered tips before taking on work. Para allowed Dashers to act as truly independent agents who were entitled to the same information as the giant corporation that relied on their work.

But what’s good for Dashers isn’t good for Doordash: The company wants to fulfill orders, even if that means a driver spends more on gas than he earns on commissions. Hiding tip amounts from drivers has allowed the company to keep drivers in the dark about which trips they should take and which they should refuse.

that’s why Doordash changed its data model to prevent Para to show tips to drivers. And rather than make clear his goal of preventing drivers from knowing how much they would be paid, he made misleading “data privacy and security” claims. Among his claims: that Para violated his terms of service by “scratching”.

Scraping is an old and honorable tool in the technologist’s toolbox, a cornerstone of Competitive compatibility (AKA comcom, or contradictory interoperability). It allows developers to create new or improved technologies that connect to existing ones, with or without permission from the company that created the old system. Comcom allows users and toolmakers to collaborate to take over computing resources, resisting disciplinary technologies such as bossware which gradually imposes Doordash-type technological controls on all kinds of workers. It’s possible to do bad things with scraping – to commit privacy breaches and worse – but there is nothing inherently sinister about scraping.

Doordash loves comcom, when it is they who deploy it. The company regularly creates lists of restaurants that have never agreed to use it for delivery services, using “search engine optimization” and anti-competitive and loss-making pricing To intervenes between restaurateurs in difficulty and their guests.

Dashers also have a long story to subvert the technological controls that make their professional life so difficult. But despite Doordash’s celebration of “disruption”, it has zero tolerance for apps that turn the tide in technological control. Doordash therefore stopped providing tip information in the information feed, thus eliminating Para’s ability to show critical tip information to Dashers.

Dashers don’t give up. When their technology stopped working, they switched to coordinated union action. At the top of their demands: the right to know what they are going to be paid for before doing a job – a perfectly reasonable thing to demand. The fact that Doordash intentionally designed an app to hide this information, then cut off an app that tried to provide it, is lousy. Doordash should just tell the Dashers the truth.

And if they don’t, Dashers should be allowed to continue developing and running programs that extract this information from the Doordash app, even if it involves decrypting a message or doing something other than the business. do not like. Reverse engineering a program and modify it can be fully compatible with data security and privacy.

Make no mistake, the digital world Needs strong legal protections for privacy, which is why we support a strong federal privacy law with a private right of action. This way, your privacy would be protected whether or not a business decides to take it seriously. But it’s hard to see how giving Dashers good information about what they’re getting paid is a privacy issue. And we all need to be on the alert for companies that use “privacy cleansing” to defend business decisions that hurt workers.

Putting Doordash in charge of the information Dashers need would be a bad idea even if the company had a strong record on privacy (the company does not have an excellent privacy record!). It’s just too easy to use privacy as a universal excuse for the restrictions the company wants to place on its technology.

Doordash did not invent this kind of rotation. It follows the lead set by a parade of large companies breaking interoperability to improve their own bottom line at the expense of others, be it HP claims it blocks third-party ink to protect you from blurry prints, or the automakers say that they only want to shut down the freelance mechanics to defend you from the murder of stalkers, or Facebook saying he only threatened to report to journalists as part of his mission to defend our privacy.

In a world where we use devices and networks to do everything from work to learning to community, the right to decide how these devices and networks operate is fundamental. As the Dashers have shown us, when an app is your boss, you need a better app.


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