FTC wants to protect gig workers from 'unfair or deceptive' algorithms

The agency also hopes to tackle pay issues and collusion.

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The Federal Trade Commission is making its own bid to protect gig workers against exploitation. The regulator has adopted a policy statement detailing how it will tackle gig workers' problems. The FTC plans to step in when there are misrepresentations about pay, costs, benefits and work terms. Officials also expect to intervene with "unfair or deceptive" algorithms, harsh contracts and anti-competitive behavior such as wage fixing and monopoly-creating mergers.

The Commission said the classification of workers wouldn't affect enforcement, so companies can't avoid repercussions by classifying people as contractors instead of employees. Violators may have to pay fines and change their practices, and the FTC could partner with other government bodies (such as the Justice Department and National Labor Relations Board) to address issues.

There are gaps. It could be difficult for the FTC to prove algorithm-driven abuse, for instance, and it's not clear which non-contractual "restraints" might hurt workers' freedom of movement. However, this could still serve as a warning to gig companies that might hide steep operating costs, fight unionization efforts or collude with rivals to keep wages low.

The FTC isn't alone in hoping to improve the lot of gig workers. A bipartisan measure in Congress, introduced to the House and Senate this February, is meant to provide portable benefits to gig workers. Last year, the Labor Department revoked a rule that made it harder to protect those workers' labor rights. States and cities have also filed lawsuits and otherwise taken efforts to bolster working conditions. However, the FTC's policy provides an extra, nationwide safeguard that might further discourage attempts to exploit the gig economy.