File image: Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab. (IOL).
File image: Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab. (IOL).

How tech companies make people work for them, for free

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Jul 5, 2019

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It is said technology is busy replacing work, however, it is also creating new workers.

There’s a new group of workers that has not yet received attention, the new free labourers.

They are technology users who in the process of getting their services are offering data to technology companies. These companies have mastered the art of getting work done for them for free and without the cost burden. They have in effect changed the nature of work.

It is now possible to do work for a tech company while you’re using a tech tool for your own needs. Since the user is getting a benefit for sharing information and using the tool, the assumption is that there’s no need to pay the user when the shared information is commercialised.

Are tech users not deserving of a few dollars for their work and information?

Uber is a unique example of a tech company that has managed to get stuff done for free.

It has managed to build a $1billion business without a single car of their own. They rely on the driver network to carry the cost burden of moving people around. In doing this, they’ve managed to avoid the cost that comes with employing drivers who form a core part of their service.

Are Uber drivers not entitled to employment benefits?

Google has mastered the art of pursuing their business of collecting the world’s information by capitalising on searches by their users. Whenever you use a Google Maps you are essentially doing (free) work for Google.

Based on your search, Google makes money. Should Google consider paying users for the data they share?

Facebook has also proven to be the grand master of getting their work done for free. Whenever you post on Facebook you are giving it information which it in turn sells and makes billions.

Should the users not be paid for money earned based on their data?

Now that Facebook is behind the development of a cryptocurrency, Libra, it may be worth considering paying tech users with such currency.

The problem with this practice by tech companies is that the real workers earn nothing while the firms rake in billions based on free labour.

Currently users of technology platforms are not considered labourers, however, their contribution is key to the existence of some tech companies.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) needs to recognise the fact that tech users are in a sense labourers for tech platforms.

The ILO should also consider ways of getting users paid for work conducted for tech companies. It is important that users of tech platforms begin a process that will allow them to earn money for their own data and contribution on tech platforms.

Acting alone, users will have a challenge to move tech companies to act by rewarding owners and creators of data.

As organisations such as the ILO were created pre-digital years, they may not have the capacity to effectively develop policies that will acknowledge work done by tech users as worthy of a financial reward.

The ILO may at least be instrumental in the creation of a new global entity to recognise creators of data and ensure that they are financially rewarded for their work.

As tech replaces work it will be important to review the definition of work starting with the recognition of tech users as labourers worthy of a reward.

Wesley Diphoko is the editor-in-chief of The Infonomist. You can follow him on Twitter via @WesleyDiphoko


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