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Gig platform report calls for transparency to fix abuse

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Gig platform report calls for transparency to fix abuse

A not-for-profit set up by a former Uber driver who successfully challenged the ride-hailing giant’s misclassification of drivers’ employment status in the UK, has published a timely report pressing the case for proper oversight of the algorithms and data used to remotely surveil and control the labor of platform workers.

Timely — given the European Union has just proposed legislation to enhance algorithm transparency on digital labor platforms as a lever to tackle problematic working conditions.

At the same time, lawmakers in the UK — which now sits outside the bloc — are consulting on lowering domestic data protection standards. Including, potentially, stripping out existing rights associated with automated decision-making; and removing the requirement to carry out a data protection impact assessment prior to processing sensitive personal data — which the not-for-profit warns would amount to “a hammer-blow for precarious workers who already have long been denied basic employment rights who could now be robbed of the means to hold rogue employers to proper account”, as the report puts it.

The report, co-authored by researcher Cansu Safak and former Uber driver James Farrer, who founded the Worker Information Exchange (WIF), is entitled Managed by Bots: Data-Driven Exploitation in the Gig Economy.

It contains a number of case studies which illustrate the obstacles and obfuscation faced by regional gig workers seeking to obtain data access rights to try to assess the fairness of platforms’ data-driven decisions about them and their labor (up to and including termination of their ability to work on the platform).

Examples discussed include ‘antifraud’ facial recognition checks that appear racially biased; drivers notified of fraud strikes on their accounts without being given clear, immediate information about what is triggering warnings that can also lead to account termination; and numerous instances of drivers not being provided with all their requested data while platforms work hard to frustrate their requests.

WIF’s report goes on to argue that “woefully inadequate levels of transparency about the extent of algorithmic management and automated decision making” is enabling exploitation of workers in the gig economy.

Litigation is one (extant) route for regional gig workers to try to obtain their rights — including employment protections and data rights — and we’ve seen plenty of both already in Europe.

Most notably, Farrer’s own employment classification litigation against Uber which forced the platform to finally recognize UK drivers as workers earlier this year.

However Uber’s self-serving interpretation still avoids paying drivers for the time they spend waiting for the next trip. (Aka: “Failure to pay for waiting time as working time enables platforms to take advantage of the immediacy of availability to drive up customer response time while driving down worker earnings,” as the report neatly sumarizes it.)

While — even in the UK — such workers are not protected against instant dismissal by (unfair) algorithm.

So the report makes the point that worker status is not itself a panacea against opaque algorithmic management — with the co-authors warning that “the recent gains in the courts do not fully protect workers against its harms”.

WIF is also supporting a number of challenges to gig platforms’ algorithmic control of workers, as we’ve reported before — but that’s also an expensive and time-consuming process for precarious workers who typically lack resources to fight platform giants through the courts.

So its overarching point is that current protections for individuals subject to algorithmic decision-making, such as those contained in Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, do not go far enough — allowing platforms to concoct convoluted justifications for withholding the workings of algorithms from those subject to opaque management and control by AI.

Here the report calls out platforms’ conflation of fraud management with performance management, as one example.

“The fact that such ‘fraud’ indicators are used as variables for work allocation and that the behaviours generating them are allowed to continue on the platform demonstrates that these are not instances of criminal fraud, but mechanisms of control, which assess how well workers are performing against the opaque metrics set by companies,” the report notes in a section subtitled “Surveillance Arms Race” — which discusses a variety of systems used by ride-hailing platforms Uber, Bolt and Free Now.

“We suggest that any ‘fraud’ terminology used in these contexts also function as part of the misclassification game, designed to conceal the employment relationship,” it adds, further arguing there has been “widespread proliferation and a disproportionate use of worker surveillance in the name of fraud prevention’”.

The report makes the case for increased digital rights protections to steer the industry in a better direction — allowing gig workers to gain “equality in digitally mediated work” vs today’s abuse-enabling power imbalance where platforms pull all the strings, and deploy denial and/or dark patterns to frustrate workers’ attempts to leverage existing (weak) legal protections.

Categories of data that platforms process about workers — which WIF’s report notes are typically made explicit in platform guidance documents and privacy policies — are often not shared with drivers when they download their data or make subject access requests under GDPR, underlining the discrepancy between existing levels of data processing by platforms vs transparency.

“In our experience, when workers seek out this information, gig platforms aim to make the process difficult and burdensome by engaging in a variety of non-compliant behaviour,” it writes. “Workers seeking comprehensive data have to navigate exceedingly complex and obstructive website architectures and need to circumvent further frustration efforts by support agents, who unnecessarily prolong simple administrative processes or provide automated responses that fail to adequately answer queries.

“These procedures can be described as ‘dark patterns’ designed to guide workers away from exercising their rights as data subjects. On the occasions where workers are able to obtain their data, it is often either missing considerable segments or presented in inconsistent and non-machine readable formats, making analysis effectively impossible. These acts of obstruction force workers to make repeated requests which companies ultimately use as a reason for discrediting them.”

“In all of the DSAR [data subject access request] returns we have seen, no employer has given a full and proper account of automated personal data processing,” the report adds. “This is particularly important in areas that can determine security of employment such as work allocation, performance management, safety and security, as discussed through this report.”

Again, platforms have sought to shield their algorithms from litigation seeking data on the AIs’ logic, inputs and outputs by claiming the “safety and security” of their services could be compromised if such information was disclosed to workers.

(And — in London at least — platforms such as Uber appear to have been pushed toward even tighter algorithmic surveillance of drivers (and use of flawed facial recognition technology) as a result of a safety-focused intervention by the transport regulator, TfL, which has, since 2017, has denied Uber a full licence to operate, citing safety concerns… )

But the report argues it’s the opposite that’s true, writing: “In our view, safety and security can only be enhanced when platforms transparently set rules and performance standards rather than relying on covert surveillance and summary dismissals, which are some of the key motivators of DSARs.”

Commenting in a statement, the report’s lead author, Safak, added: “The many worker cases we document in this report make it undeniably clear that the harms of algorithmic management are real and affect the most vulnerable. Gig platforms are collecting an unprecedented amount of data from workers through invasive surveillance technologies. Every day, companies make allegations of ‘algorithmic wrongdoing’ which they do not offer any evidence for. They block and frustrate workers’ efforts to obtain their personal data when they try to defend themselves. This is how gig platforms maintain exploitative power.”

In another supporting statement, Farrer said: “As gig economy platforms mature and regulatory pressure builds, we are seeing employers roll out intensive surveillance and opaque automated management decision making systems to exercise ever more hidden forms of control over workers. This report shows how the latest wave of employment misclassification tactics involves employers telling workers they are truly independent in their jobs while at the same time management control is wielded as forcefully as ever but from behind the digital curtain.”

WIF, along with the digital rights campaign group Privacy International and the App Drivers & Couriers Union is seeking to raise public awareness over the issue as regional lawmakers consider their next steps — launching a public campaign and petition that calls for greater algorithmic transparency and accountability from platform employers.

As part of the petition the groups say they will be writing to a number of gig platforms — including Uber, Just Eat, Amazon Flex, Free Now, Bolt, Ola and Deliveroo — to “demand answers” and “ensure that the unprecedented surveillance that gig-economy workers are facing from their employers ends”.

 

Source: Tech

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Paack pulls in a $225M Series D led by SoftBank to scale its E-commerce delivery platform

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By now, many of us are familiar with the warehouse robots which populate those vast spaces occupied by the likes of Amazon and others. In particular, Amazon was very much a pioneer of the technology. But it’s 2021 now, and allying warehouse robots with a software logistics platform is no longer the monopoly of one company.

One late-stage startup which has been ‘making hay’ with the whole idea is Paack, an e-commerce delivery platform which a sophisticated software platform that integrates with the robotics which are essential to modern-day logistics operations.

It’s now raised €200m ($225m) in a Series D funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The capital will be used for product development and European expansion.

New participants for this round also include Infravia Capital Partners, First Bridge Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst. Returning investors include Unbound, Kibo Ventures, Big Sur Ventures, RPS Ventures, Fuse Partners, Rider Global, Castel Capital, and Iñaki Berenguer.

This funding round comes after the creation of a profitable position in its home market of Spain, but Paack claims it’s on track to achieve similar across its European operations, Such as in the UK, France, and Portugal.

Founded by Fernando Benito, Xavier Rosales and Suraj Shirvankar, Paack now says it’s delivering several million orders per month from 150 international clients, processing 10,000 parcels per hour, per site. Some 17 of them are amongst the largest e-commerce retailers in Spain.

The startup’s systems integrate with e-commerce sites. This means consumers are able to customize their delivery schedule at checkout, says the company.

Benito, CEO and Co-founder, said: “Demand for convenient, timely, and more sustainable methods of delivery is going to explode over the next few years and Paack is providing the solution. We use technology to provide consumers with control and choice over their deliveries, and reduce the carbon footprint of our distribution.” 

Max Ohrstrand, Investment Director at SoftBank Investment Advisers said: “As the e-commerce sector continues to flourish and same-day delivery is increasingly the norm for consumers, we believe Paack is well-positioned to become the category leader both in terms of its technology and commitment to sustainability.”

According to research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), the last-mile delivery business is expected to grow 78% by 2030, causing a rise in CO2 emissions of nearly one-third.

As a result, Paack claim it aims to deliver all parcels at carbon net-zero by measuring its environmental impact, using electric last-mile delivery vehicles. It is now seeking certification with The Carbon Trust and United Nations.

In an interview Benito told me: “We have a very clear short term vision which is to lead sustainable e-commerce delivers in Europe… through technology via what we think is perhaps the most advanced tech delivery platform for last-mile delivery. Our CTO was the CTO and co-founder of Google Cloud, for instance.”

“We are developing everything from warehouse automation, time windows, routing integrations etc. in order to achieve the best delivery experience.”

Paack says it is able to work with more than one robotics partner, but presently it is using robots from Chinese firm GEEK.

The company hopes it can compete with the likes of DHL, Instabox, and La Poste in Europe, which are large incumbents.

Source: Tech

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Infermedica raises $30M to expand its AI-based medical guidance platform

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Infermedica, a Poland-founded digital health company that offers AI-powered solutions for symptom analysis and patient triage, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round was led by One Peak and included participation from previous investors Karma Ventures, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Heal Capital and Inovo Venture Partners. The new capital means the startup has raised $45 million in total to date.

Founded in 2012, Infermedica aims to make it easier for doctors to pre-diagnose, triage and direct their patients to appropriate medical services. The company’s mission is to make primary care more accessible and affordable by introducing automation into healthcare. Infermedica has created a B2B platform for health systems, payers and providers that automates patient triage, the intake process and follow-up after a visit. Since its launch, Infermedica is being used in more than 30 countries in 19 languages and has completed more than 10 million health checks.

The company offers a preliminary diagnosis symptom checker, an AI-driven software that supports call operators making timely triage recommendations and an application programming interface that allows users to build customized diagnostic solutions from scratch. Like a plethora of competitors, such as Ada Health and Babylon, Infermedica combines the expertise of physicians with its own algorithms to offer symptom triage and patient advice.

In terms of the new funding, Infermedica CEO Piotr Orzechowski told TechCrunch in an email that the investment will be used to further develop the company’s Medical Guidance Platform and add new modules to cover the full primary care journey. Last year, Infermedica’s team grew by 80% to 180 specialists, including physicians, data scientists and engineers. Orzechowski says Infermedica has an ambitious plan to nearly double its team in the next 12 months.

Image Credits: Infermedica

“We will invest heavily into our people and our products, rolling out new modules of our platform as well as expanding our underlying AI capabilities in terms of disease coverage and accuracy,” Orzechowski said. “From the commercial perspective, our goal is to strengthen our position in the US and DACH and we will focus the majority of our sales and marketing efforts there.”

Regarding the future, Orzechowski said he’s a firm believer that there will be fully automated self-care bots in 5-10 years that will be available 24/7 to help providers find solutions to low acuity health concerns, such as a cold or UTI.

“According to WHO, by 2030 we might see a shortage of almost 10 million doctors, nurses and midwives globally,” Orzechowski said. “Having certain constraints on how fast we can train healthcare professionals, our long-term plan assumes that AI will become a core element of every modern healthcare system by navigating patients and automating mundane tasks, saving the precious time of clinical staff and supporting them with clinically accurate technology.”

Infermedica’s Series B round follows its $10 million Series A investment announced in August 2020. The round was led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and digital health fund Heal Capital. Existing investors Karma Ventures, Inovo Venture Partners and Dreamit Ventures also participated in the round.

Source: Tech

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KKR invests $45M into GrowSari, a B2B platform for Filipino MSMEs

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A sari-sari store owner who uses GrowSari

GrowSari, the Manila-based startup that helps small shops grow and digitize, announced today that KKR will lead its Series C round with a $45 million investment. The funds will be used to enter new regions in the Philippines and expand its financial products. The Series C round is still ongoing and the startup says it is already oversubscribed, with the final composition currently being finalized. 

Before its Series C, GrowSari’s total raised was $30 million. TechCrunch last wrote about GrowSari in June 2021, when it announced its Series B. Since then, it has expanded the number of municipalities it serves from 100 to 220, and now has a customer base of 100,000 micro, small and mid-sized enterprise (MSME) store owners. 

Founded in 2016, GrowSari is a B2B platform that offers almost every kind of service that small- to medium-sized retailers, including neighborhood stores that carry daily necessities (called sari-saris), roadside and market shops and pharmacies, need.

For example, it has a wholesale marketplace with products from major fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands like Unilever, P&G and Nestle. It partners with over 200 providers, like telecoms, fintechs and subscription plans, so sari-saris can offer services like top-ups and bill payments to their customers. 

Sari-sari operators can also use GrowSari to launch e-commerce stores and access short-term working capital loans to buy inventory. The startup’s other financial products include digital wallets and cash-in services, and it is looking at adding remittance, insurance and loans in partnership with other providers. 

The new funding will be used to expand into the Visayas and Mindanao, the two other main geographical regions in the Philippines, with the goal of covering all 1.1 million “mom and pop” stores in the Philippines. 

Source: Tech

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