Huang Hui, a Ph.D. candidate at King's College in London who spent six months as a gig worker in Shanghai, is among a cohort of researchers studying how algorithms control gig workers' lives. China's platform economy has engulfed almost a quarter of the country's labor force, with an estimated 200 million people working in "flexible" employment.
Companies have leveraged algorithms to force couriers to work faster and more efficiently, squeezing them with tighter delivery times. Some gig workers are banding together to turn the data-driven approach to performance assessment against their bosses. Many more are forming unofficial unions with the help of social media platforms such as WeChat and Douyin, China's version of TikTok.
Although China bans independent unions and labor strikes, that hasn't stopped gig workers from organizing unofficially. Many food delivery riders find opportunities to band together thanks to other types of algorithms — those that help them find like-minded people on Douyin, where gig workers share experiences and advice.
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