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Posts Tagged ‘control society’

“The phone rings and an eerie voice mimicking a woman says: “Your shift is about to start, please log in and make sure you are in your designated starting area.”

This automatic reminder to promptly start the shift was, for me, the most tangible reminder that couriers working for Foodora and similar “platform capitalism” companies operate via the control of algorithms. While getting a call from a robot urging to start your shift is uncanny, the algorithms control the couriers’ work in more subtle, and more important, ways.

Dispatching, namely the assignment of orders to couriers is done automatically at Foodora. Through the application that the couriers use to receive orders, the algorithm tracks the couriers’ location, average speed, how quickly the courier delivers the food and how much time they spend at the customer. Based on an unknown weighing of these factors, the algorithm assigns a specific order to a given courier.

The dispatcher, who distributes orders, plays probably the single most important part in a courier’s job. The courier plans their own routes, but the dispatcher gives the orders, sets the pace and provides the information the courier needs to do their job. No matter how fast a courier rides or how well they navigate the city, if dispatching does not work, nothing works. Conversely, when dispatchers and couriers work well together and communicate with each other, they deliver orders quickly and efficiently. When the dispatcher is a courier themselves, this cooperation usually works best, because the dispatcher knows what can be expected from a cyclist, how the weather, the load and distance affects the courier.

Foodora has human dispatchers, who oversee couriers in a given city. However, in the working process designed by Foodora, human dispatchers ideally don’t interact with couriers, who should get their orders automatically. Presumably as a cost-saving measure, Foodora centralized its dispatching to Berlin and the dispatchers overseeing say Helsinki know nothing about the city. Thus the dispatchers are not able to help couriers in problem cases and sometimes the results are just plain bizarre, for example when by mistake an order has registered to a restaurant that is in fact closed and the courier tries to tell disbelieving dispatchers in Berlin that the cannot pick it up, because… well, the restaurant is closed.

The biggest problem however is one of transparency. The provisions paid for the order form a substantial part of the couriers’ income at Foodora, and because of this, those who get more orders earn more. The courier however does not know how and why the algorithm distributes the orders to one courier instead of another. Apparently, the algorithm distributes orders to couriers it deems “effective”. I have seen a situation when a fast courier came exhausted with less than ten minutes of their shift remaining to the office where couriers, who had just started their shifts sat waiting for orders. Then a new order came and algorithm assigned it to the fast courier. Why, nobody knows, but in Foodora’s automatic system once an order is assigned it cannot be changed.

Similarly, the algorithm classes Foodora’s couriers into four “batches”, or groups, based on their performance (as judged by the algorithm). Shifts are made available in steps to these batches so that the first batch, with the “best” couriers, get first pick from all the shifts, then the next and those in the last batch pick any shifts that might be left. How a courier gets shifts obviously directly affects their income. If one can do only a limited amount of hours, one also earns less. Along with this direct effect, how much and how well one works affects also one’s position in the “batch” and the possibility to get shifts in the future.

In short, the algorithms directly control the couriers’ work and their income, but in ways the courier can only guess. Even if the courier was adept in reading the code and reverse-engineering the applications, the systems that manage them are proprietary and not made known to the courier.”

– Tuomas Tammisto,
“When Mr. Robot is Your Boss: Working under algorithms.” The Transnational Courier Federation (#4.2)

When Mr. Robot is Your Boss: Working under algorithms

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Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979.

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That what matters today is to preserve and disseminate freedom, rather than to accelerate, however indirectly, the advance toward the administered world…

Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Preface to the 2nd German Edition of Dialectic Of Enlightenment
(via tiqqun)

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“As it happens, tech – or surveillance capitalism – has disrupted the private investigation business as much as it’s ripped through journalism, the taxi business, war making, and so many other private and public parts of our world. And it’s not only celebrities and presidential candidates whose privacy hackers have burned through. Israeli spyware can steal the contacts off your phone just as LinkedIn did to market itself to your friends. Google, the Associated Press reported recently, archives your location even when you’ve turned off your phone. Huge online database brokers like Tracers, TLO, and IRBsearch that law enforcement and private eyes like me use can trace your address, phone numbers, email addresses, social media accounts, family members, neighbors, credit reports, the property you own, foreclosures or bankruptcies you’ve experienced, court judgments or liens against you, and criminal records you may have rolled up over the years.

Ten years ago, to subscribe to one of these databases, I had to show proof that I was indeed a licensed investigator and pass an on-site investigation to ensure that any data I downloaded would be protected. I was required to have a surveillance camera and burglar alarm on the building where my office was located, as well as a dead bolt on my office door, a locked filing cabinet, and double passwords to get into my computer. Now, most database brokers just require a PI or attorney license and you can sign right up online. Government records – federal and state, civil and criminal – are also increasingly online for anyone to access.

The authoritarian snoops of the last century would have drooled over the surveillance uses of the smartphones that most of us now carry. Smartphones have, in fact, become one of the primo law enforcement tools other than the Internet. “Find my iPhone” can even find a dead body – if, that is, the victim left her iPhone on while being murdered. And don’t get me started on the proliferation of surveillance cameras in our world.

Take me. I had a classic case that shows just how traceable we all now are. There was a dead body, a possible murder victim, but no direct evidence: no witnesses, no DNA, no fingerprints, and no murder weapon found. In San Francisco’s East Bay, however, as in most big American cities, there are so many surveillance cameras mounted on mom-and-pop stores, people’s houses, bars, cafes, hospitals, toll bridges, tunnels, even in parks, that the police can collect enough video, block by block, to effectively map a suspect driving around Oakland for hours before hitting the freeway and heading out to dump a body, just as the defendant in my case did.

Once upon a time, cops and dirty private eyes would have had to attach trackers to the undercarriages of cars to follow them electronically. No longer. The particular suspect I have in mind drove his victim’s car across a bridge, where cameras videotaped the license plate but couldn’t see inside the car; nor, he must have assumed, could anyone record him on the deserted road he finally reached where he was undoubtedly confident that he was safe. What he didn’t notice was the CALFIRE video camera placed on that very road to monitor for brush fires. It caught a car’s headlights matching his on its way to the site he had chosen to dump the body. There was no direct evidence of the murder he had committed, just circumstantial, tech-based evidence. A jury, however, convicted him in just a few hours.”

– Judith Coburn, “A Private Investigator on Living in a Surveillance Culture: Can we be forgotten anymore?Common Dreams. August 27, 2018.

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mygoodbabushka:

In 1930, Helene Adelaide Shelby patented an apparatus for obtaining
criminal confessions.  The police put the suspect into a darkened
chamber where they are confronted by a human skeleton with glowing red
eyes that questions them with a voice transmitted from the interrogator
behind it, through a megaphone in its mouth. A camera concealed in the
skull was to record the confessions

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“The same society of alienation, totalitarian control and passive spectacular consumption reigns everywhere, despite the diversity of its ideological and juridical disguises. The coherence of this society cannot be understood without an all-encompassing critique, illuminated by the inverse project of a liberated creativity, the project of everyone’s control of all levels of their own history.”

– Guy Debord, The Situationists and the New Forms of Action in Art and Politics. June 1963. (via @shituationist)

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“the big growth industry right now is totalitarianism.

that’s not some intense rhetorical statement or political slogan, it’s a fact by the definition of the word.

the rise of ‘smart’ technology–cities that monitor the motions of their citizens, cars that report to insurance companies what you’re talking about, thermometers that keep an eye on where people are in the house and run that through a third-party database, and most of all google (alphabet now actually, google is just a subsidiary) which is contending for the richest company in the world–are based off expanding a practice of total universal data control and “realtime behavior modification”–usually through negative incentivization: if you talk about driving dangerously, your car tells the insurance company who increases your rates. this is the purpose behind ‘gamifying’ structures as well, to build a video-game-like reward/punishment system into capitalism where one’s behavior is constantly supported or opposed. functionally, tech bros are imposing a bad videogame morality system onto real life. or, not “are imposing” so much as “have imposed”, given how such a thing already defines how we interact with each other online. it is formalized, incentivized totalitarianism, to a degree that the totalitarian governments of the past couldn’t imagine (this totalitarianism is decentralized, abstracted to trends and aesthetics and the logic of capital).

they are trying to push total complacency as we move into the era of climate collapse. and it’s happening so fast, so efficiently, and so differently than people expected, no one knows how to respond.”

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