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A Gig Surveillance Economy

Elizabeth E. Joh
Wednesday, November 10, 2021, 10:15 AM

What are the legal and policy questions raised by gig surveillance work?

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This essay describes gig surveillance work, what potential legal and policy questions it raises and what it means for further entrenchment of private information market reliance by the government.  This essay defines gig surveillance work as short-term, freelance, temporary surveillance that generates data later sold for profit.  In the aggregate, this gig surveillance economy a) mimics the temporary, platform-mediated work we see in rideshares and food and package delivery; b) involves information collection with cheap and networked tools; and c) requires no specialized skills.  Every element necessary for gig surveillance work already exists, and conditions are ripe for its flourishing. The production of surveillance data is already a by-product of conventional gig work.  What we can expect is the further development of gig work for the sake of surveillance itself. 

Elizabeth E. Joh is the Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law at the University of California–Davis School of Law. She has written widely about policy, technology, and surveillance. Her scholarship and commentary have appeared in leading legal and news publications. She previously clerked for the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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