How Gig Workers Push Back Against Their “Digital Boss” - Deepstash
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The five-star rating system

The five-star rating system

Anyone who buys goods or services online relies on the five-star rating system for guidance. Digital platforms like Uber, TaskRabbit and Upwork apply the rating system to individual workers.

Workers tend to understand the downsides of an overly simplistic rating system. There are many situations in which rating someone's leaving does not accurately show what's happening in the context of their work.


68 reads

The new digital "boss"

The new digital "boss"

The platforms like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Upwork have created a system where the traditional role of the manager has been outsourced to customers and their star-based ratings. This effectively means that the algorithmically mediated customer that monitors and evaluates individuals have given workers a new, digital boss.

Individual workers across digital labour platforms actively resist the power of these ratings.


23 reads

Three work stages

Three work stages

Gig workers- customer interaction is divided into three stages (before, during, and after) that generate distinct forms of worker actions intended to recover some of their control over being rated.

With each subsequent stage, workers' ability to resist an unfair rating decrease. Efforts to remain vigilant over a prolonged service encounter while trying to maintain high ratings contributed to feelings of fatigue in workers.


15 reads

The "before" stage tactics

Researchers found that as workers moved through the different job stages, they responded with resistance measures specific to each stage.

During the "before" stage, workers had the most leeway to use resistance tactics since customers could not yet rate them. Strategies involve attempts to vet customers, perhaps by calling them with a question to assess their attitudes.

When it is suspected that a prospective customer will offer a few stars, the worker will sometimes cancel the job. Some freelancers will demand five stars as a precondition to working with a customer.


9 reads

The second stage tactics

During the second stage, when workers are in the midst of completing a task, their power to resist a customer's demand or complaint is reduced.

Tactics at this stage include

  • offering a discount for a high rating,
  • spreading a single project over multiple contracts so they can receive multiple high ratings from one customer they know,
  • ending work prematurely if a worker suspects interaction is not going well.

In a traditional setting, you could talk to a manager if you had a bad customer. But when platforms outsource the middle-manager role, workers are more sensitive in the middle stage.


10 reads

The third stage tactics

When workers are in the third and final stage, they have the least recourse to push back against low ratings

They are left to either file a dispute with the platform or give a customer a low rating.


11 reads

Collectively seeking control

Collectively seeking control

The limitations of labour platform's rating systems and the frustration they produce in workers are showing as problem on the platforms themselves.

Across the world, new services emerge that are worker-owened cooperatives where individuals have a say over how their workplaces operate. Yet, in traditional service settings, employers are integrating more technology to get customer ratings across every stage of their experience.

Careful consideration should be given to this model of outsourcing control to a customer using a five-star rating system.


6 reads



Television/film/video developer


Instead of having managers, gig workers are accountable to customer reviews, which creates a number of problems that should be considered.

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