The on-demand economy has scrambled the roles of employer and employee in ways that courts and regulators are just beginning to parse. So far, the debate has focused on whether workers should be contractors or employees, a question sometimes distilled into an argument about who’s the boss: Are workers their own bosses, as the companies often claim, or is the platform their boss, policing their work through algorithms and rules?
But there’s a third party that’s often glossed over: The customer. The rating systems used by these companies have turned customers into unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error. All the algorithm has to do is tally up their judgments and deactivate accordingly.
Ratings help these companies to achieve enormous scale, managing large pools of untrained contract workers without having to hire supervisors. But for the workers, already in the precarious position of contract labor, making every customer a boss is a terrifying prospect. After all, they — we — can be entitled jerks.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.