Labor Day: Right to an API Key (Algorithmic Organizing)
Today is Labor Day which is meant to celebrate the workers movement (as an aside, in Germany and much of the rest of the world this is held on May 1). That might be a good time to think about what organizing labor might mean in the future.
One of the major economic trends we are currently seeing is the breakdown of traditional employment and the rise of labor marketplaces for free lancers, such as Uber, Task Rabbit and WorkMarket (to name just a few). The valuations for at least some of these companies suggest that investors expect them to be very profitable in the longrun. During the growth phase it is entirely possible to create value for both freelancers who participate in the marketplace and for the investors who own it but eventually there is a tradeoff where on the margin an extra dollar for investors means a dollar less for labor.
So what influences the bargaining power in the future that determines how these marginal dollars get split? I would suggest that it is information. To the extent that the marketplaces have a lot of information and each participant (e.g., driver) has only very limited information the bargaining will heavily favor the marketplaces. One might argue that there could be competition between marketplaces, but due to network effects there are likely to only be a couple of big ones that matter.
There is a simple and universal regulatory change that would dramatically shift the bargaining power: an individual right to an API Key. By this I mean a key that would give an enduser *full* read/write access to the system including every action or screen the enduser can take or see on the web site or application. Alternatively one could think of this as an individual right to be represented by an algorithm.
Such an algorithm in turn could be representing many users which one might think of as algorithmic organizing. In the extreme it would allow new competitive marketplaces to spring up. Just the threat alone of that happening will substantially curb the power of even the largest marketplaces. Incidentally, everything I have written here applies equally to social networks including Twitter and Facebook.