MOVEMENTS OF ALGORITHMIC LABOR 



I will investigate the contemporary ecosystem of workplace algorithmic surveillance deployed by Yandex, a data platform based in Russia which combines the data infrastructure of Google and the working conditions of Uber. Yandex dominates Russian logistical networks through its multiple products, which all draw from its database - taxi, food delivery, maps and algorithmic solutions for business logistics. After attaining a virtual monopoly in ride-hailing with its purchase of the Russian branch of Uber in 2017, and far surpassing Google in its Russian search market, Yandex was able to create an enormous logistical network and solutions for its surveillance. The logistical infrastructures of Yandex cannot be disentangled from algorithmic surveillance - a key technology for governing labour that operates extensively in contemporary logistical industries. Yandex profits from the absence of a functional governmental policy on privacy protection. Its monopoly enables total workplace surveillance, creating "poverty and stress" among employees with the new ways of control "when there should be wealth and leisure", as Tiziana Terranova notes in the context of other platform economies. Yandex workers manifest "poverty and stress"  in their exhaustion, starvation, death due to overwork, and overall impossibility of unionisation. Yandex’s algorithms heavily underestimate the time workers need to cover their assigned distances, making it impossible for them to rest or to comply with the delivery requirements, resulting in heavy cuts from their wages.

 




PROPOSAL





As a fellowship project, I aim to develop a bilingual web-platform that would treats Yandex as an entry point in the growing industry of workplace algorithmic surveillance, the core of "information asymmetry business" as formulated by McKenzie Wark. This platform will address this asymmetry through the ecosystem of this website, constituted by its interwoven theoretical and practical functions: 


    Investigation in the material infrastructure that enables the governance of racialised bodies.

The algorithmic governance of Yandex primarily targets racialised subjects, as the majority of Yandex couriers and taxi drivers come from (ex-)Russian colonies. With my research, I cover how the data extracted from these workers and algorithms that are deployed for its analysis and prediction are producing and being produced by racialising assemblages, following Dixon-Roman. Since algorithmic control is rarely discussed in terms of its material manifestation, I intend to treat ‘protocols’ as tangible infrastructures that combine data, algorithms deployed to control and predict worker movement, and the bodies of the workers themselves. Through what I call the "Machinic Infrastructures of Truth": an assemblage of technologies including GPS tracking, cloud-computing and route-calculation algorithms, I outline protocols of workplace algorithmic surveillance as infrastructure.


    Acquired testimonies presented in the environment of photogrammetry (3D scene reconstruction from multiple photographs).

I will conduct interviews with Yandex workers from the taxi and delivery services about their experience, with particular attention towards their perception of space during work, algorithmic mistakes, and managerial concept of truth that these algorithms aim to guarantee. So far, delivery workers have only spoken publicly under aliases, due to their safety concerns about Yandex’s surveillance. Therefore, the interviews I will conduct will be presented anonymously, using modulated voices, leaving space for the visual narrative to be structured as a 3D environment. This 3D environment will feature the worker's routes through Moscow mentioned in their interviews, reconstructed using photogrammetric techniques. The cinematic navigation through the 3D environment will change according to the narrative of the interviews, as a sense of disorientation and vertigo pervades accounts of the workers’ experiences. Superimposing this environment with a user-oriented app interface showing the corresponding route on the map will create the clash between the front-end interface viewers are used to, against the back-end of embodied experience that is always absent in the representation of logistical networks.


    A hosting website that provides a platform for communication and potential unionisation.

The main barriers to advocacy for workers rights are the impossibility of unionisation and the one-way system of communication imposed by management. The platform, therefore, will function as a safe host for anonymous feedback on workers conditions, creating an "infrastructure of resistance", following Deborah Cowen. It will overview the tactics of resistance, in line with research like "A global struggle: worker protest in the platform economy", while aiming to reverse the power dynamics of information asymmetry.