Organize gig workers digitally in a pandemic

8 mins read

The pandemic has devastated gig workers. No unemployment insurance. No health insurance. Unsafe working conditions.

How can gig workers organize to demand their rights when they don’t know co-workers, work on the move at ever changing schedules? 

Technology is a two edged sword. The same technology corporations use to target customers and exploit workers, can also be used to organize their workers.


The pizza business is booming during the pandemic. Drivers and cooks are provided with little, if any, protective gear. They are putting their health at risk by coming into frequent contact with the public and other employees. And, except in states where it is required by law, they almost never have access to paid sick leave.

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Challenges in organizing gig workers

Gig workers are especially vulnerable during the pandemic, but struggle to organize. Why?

  1. Many work part-time, are on the move and have little contact with other workers.
  2. Workers face the threat of being replaced if they protest against unfair working conditions and have little recourse individually.
  3. Many workers do not know about groups that can help them organize.
  4. Workers may have little education and speak different languages.
Nurses protest not have enough protective gear during coronavirus pandemic. – WWSB
“California Fast Food Workers Protest Over Safety, Pay During  Pandemic” – CBS SF

Targeting techniques

Corporations use mobile apps to recruit, manage and monitor their workers. This lets them cut costs and adjust their workforce as needed. Profit margins increase while gig workers suffer.

These mobile apps and WiFi connectivity enable savvy organizers a means to reach gig workers standing up for their rights. Three ways to identify and contact workers include:

  1. Geofencing – Which workers are at a particular location at a give time?
  2. App based – Which workers have a specific app installed on their phone?
  3. Connectivity based – who is connected to a specific WiFi server?

Inform & organize

Users and their phones are identified by a Mobile Advertising Ad ID (MAID). A MAID is a number that is different than the phone number and used to deliver ads to that phone. 

Dozens of data brokers collect and sell MAID data of which phone was at what location at what time. This is a huge industry. Corporations use MAIDs to precisely target customers with ads.

Mobile advertising has two key components – identifying your target and serving them an ad. Some ad platforms like Facebook and Google both target and deliver ads. But, it’s often more precise and cheaper to build your target list and serve them ads separately. There are many ad networks including Facebook and Google who deliver your ads to your list of MAIDs to target.

GeoFencing : Workers at warehouses, hospitals, restaurants…

This approach finds the MAIDs of workers at a chosen location in a given time period. This method can be applied in the past to find people who were there up to a year in the past.

Geofence the location you are interested in such as a hospital or warehouse to find the workers’ MAIDs. The list of MAIDs you get  can be further filtered by age, income, gender to make sure that your ads reach your intended audience. Case study.

Targeting by App on phone (Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Amazon Flex …)

It’s possible to target ads to phones where the user has a specific app on their phone. Gig workers rely on mobile apps to find about their next assignment. You can target ads to only phones which have a particular app on it. For instance, you may want to send ads only to phones with the Uber Drive app installed and not the Uber Passenger app. Case study.

Targeting by WiFi Hotspot (Workers at senior living community , cafe, corporate bus …)

Ads can be sent to phones and computers connected to a particular WiFi Hotspot. This targeting technique is more precise that geofencing. Workers at a warehouse, senior living facility or cafeteria who use the WiFi network could be targeting in this manner. Case study.

Corporate buses are often equipped to provide workers with WiFi. The same bus WiFi network can also be used to serve ads to the workers as they commute.

Right wing mobile targeting:

Technology is agnostic. It can be used to to boost profits or empower workers. A lot depends on which side makes better use of technology. Here are two conservative examples:

  • WiFi targeting: Adoption agency to send pro-life ads to smartphones inside abortion clinics. The program will target Planned Parenthood clinics, abortion clinics, methadone clinics and high-risk areas (AHPA).
  • GeoFencing: Catholics in Iowa went to church. Steve Bannon tracked their phones. Campaigns have been using cell-phone location data for years. Did Bannon take it too far?

How much does a mobile ad campaign cost?

Most mobile service brokers provide geofenced MAID data for free, but make money from serving ads. The cost to serve mobile ads is  in terms of $/CPM – or how much it costs to serve a 1,000 mobile ad impressions. (CPM = cost per thousand). Typical ad rates are about $10/CPM. More details in this report.

Assume a hospital was geofenced to identify 500 MAIDS of health workers.
Number of ads to serve if each phone gets an ad twenty (20) times:
500 MAIDs x 20 ad impressions each = 10,000 ad impressions
Cost = 10,000 ad impressions x $10/CPM = $100

This means that to identify and send a mobile ad to each of the 500 healthcare workers at the facility twenty times would cost $100.


Exploiting underpaid workers and forcing them to work with out safety equipment during a pandemic is immoral.

Help workers organize for their rights with mobile technologies. It’s easier and costs less than you would think. Learn more here.

Co-Founder, DemLabs

Please share this bulletinDemLabs is a SF-based, progressive hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation with free and affordable apps. Donate here to support our work.

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Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

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