UC Berkeley Labor Center report addresses workers’ technology rights

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Anthony Angel Pérez/Staff
In response to the increased use of data and algorithms in the workplace, UC Berkeley Labor Center released a report Wednesday outlining a set of policy principles for workers' technology rights.

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In light of the growing use of data and algorithms in the workplace, UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education released a report Nov. 3 that provides a set of policy principles for workers’ technology rights in the United States.

The report said the center aims to provide a “research-based framework” to address the need for technology rights amid an increasing amount of data-driven workplaces in the nation. It hopes to give researchers, policymakers and advocates a better sense of how to address and regulate technology, according to Reem Suleiman, a co-author of the report and researcher in the UC Berkeley Labor Center’s Technology and Work program.

“We are having a lot of debate now about technology rights that consumers need and social media users should have,said Suleiman. “Workers also have a big stake in how digital technology impacts them just like consumers do.”

The report follows efforts from the federal government, including the launch of the Initiative on Artificial Intelligence and Algorithmic Fairness, to protect the public from the potential harms of artificial intelligence, according to the press release about the report.

Suleiman noted that workers don’t have much knowledge or say about how technology is being used in the workplace. They are often unaware of what data is being collected from them, when they are being monitored and how algorithms make decisions, she added.

“Because they don’t know about it, they don’t have a way to challenge it,” Suleiman said.

The report discusses the potential harms of data and powerful technologies to workers. For example, Suleiman said some monitoring that is used to push productivity quota in the workplace is harmful to workers’ bodies, and algorithms can be discriminatory when sorting applicants based on keywords on a resume.

The report then lists nine policy principles to address such potential harms. It draws upon a variety of sources, such as legal scholarship, worker advocates, privacy and worker rights scholars and high-level principles on ethical regulation, according to Suleiman.

The principles outline a “robust regulation regime” to ensure workers’ technology rights. This includes continuously evaluating the harms of data-driven technologies, giving workers rights with respect to their data and regulating the ways in which employers monitor workers and algorithms, among other efforts. 

Suleiman explains that technology is a largely unregulated space when it comes to workers and added that there will need to be more policies and regulations in the future.

“This is not all the workers need; they need much more than this,” Suleiman said. “This is the starting place because we are starting at a place where workers don’t even know what’s going on. And they have no right to know.”

Contact Winnie Lau at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @winniewy_lau.