Digital Footprint

The Digital Footprint project

“There is much talk about the disruptive potential of digitalisation and the platform economy on labour markets. But surprisingly little is known about the realities of ‘gig work’ and the new types of employment created by online platforms. Is it a liberating new form of self-employment or a new form of exploitation? How many workers are doing it? Who are they? Is it their main source of income or a top-up to other kinds of work? What is the reality of their working lives? And what are the implications of these new realities for public policy in Europe?”, said Professor Ursula Huws from the University of Hertfordshire at the beginning of the Digital Footprint Project.

To gain a better understanding of the potential of the platform economy on our labour markets, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and UNI Europa, in partnership with the University of Hertfordshire and Ipsos MORI, have conducted three reports. The mid-project report on “Work in the European ‘Gig Economy’” (2017) revealed the extent and characteristics of crowd workers in seven European countries. The two reports on “The Platformisation of Work in Europe” (long and short versions in 2019) present research results from 14 online surveys carried out in 13 European countries between January 2016 and May 2019, including Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

Platform work is a highly relevant topic, almost a trend, that has not received enough attention from policy makers in the past years. Our reports reveal for the first time the extent of platform work and the characteristics of those who do it. Since early 2016, several online surveys and in-depth interviews have been conducted in these countries to gather respective data on crowd work and to draw a comparison across Europe. By combining quantitative and qualitative methods, the research approach attempts to investigate the growing importance of the platform economy, which can be seen as a hidden labour market phenomenon.

The latest reports reveal two converging trends that contribute to a major reshaping of work in Europe: on the one hand, there is a growing tendency for people to piece together patchwork livelihoods from multiple sources of income. On the other hand, technological change is leading to a growth in the use of digital means for the organisation and management of work, especially in service industries. In the reports, the focus is particularly set on the proportion of the population engaged in crowd work, the income gained through this activity and the crowd workers’ employment status. The report also explores the role played by the platform economy in supplying household services and their impact on work-life balance both for platform workers and users.

Since this has left many workers unprotected, the report clearly identifies the need for more stringent regulations in order to reap the benefits of digital technologies. One of our key intentions in conducting this research was to provide public policy proposals to address asymmetries in labour conditions between ordinary and digital labour. Our two conferences in November 2017 and July 2019 were great occasions to promote an open debate on new forms of labour; a debate that is relevant for both academic and policy-relevant research.