Thousands of gig workers employed in app-based delivery or hail services in India want those platforms to stop forcing them to install a controversial government-backed coronavirus contact tracking app.
The app called Aarogya Setu requires constant access to GPS and Bluetooth data and has been criticized around the world for enabling government surveillance.
Although the Indian government has not made the app mandatory by law, the country’s citizens have often found that they had no choice but to install it for things like flights and trains, visiting pharmacies and shopping malls, and access to ATMs. Last month, Noida, a city on the outskirts of the Indian capital New Delhi, threatened people who did not install the app with prison.
Even so, private companies with millions in risk funding – including food delivery apps like Zomato and Swiggy and hail rides like Ola, run by thousands of gig workers across the country – have made this mandatory for workers to install the app, if you want to live from these platforms.
“Most of the gig employees in India who work as urban delivery drivers for app-based technology platforms are semi-literate migrants from small towns across the country who don’t understand privacy concerns about contact tracing apps,” said Shaik Salauddin, national secretary general of the Inders’ Association of App-Based Transportation Workers (IFAT), a union that represents more than 35,000 gig workers in 16 cities across the country, told BuzzFeed News. “The tech platforms they work for are taking advantage of this by making the installation of this app mandatory.”
Earlier this month, IFAT asked India’s largest food delivery and hail services including Zomato, Swiggy, Ola, and Dunzo to allow gig workers to get their jobs done without the contact tracing app on their phones platforms, which were introduced shortly after the start of Aarogya Setu by the national government in early April.
“Up to now nobody in a company has listened to us,” said Salauddin.
An Uber spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that while the company had recommended drivers download the app, it was not yet mandatory. The spokesman declined to comment on whether Uber would enforce this in the future.
“Apps like Aarogya Setu play an important role in checking the status of the areas affected by COVID in their vicinity. It also helps them check their health on a daily basis and takes them to work once they get green. So we made it mandatory for them to use the app, ”a Swiggy spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Zomato and Ola did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment. Dunzo declined to comment.
Millions of Indians have spent the past few months indoors because of a strict nationwide coronavirus lockdown. Although orders are down from normal, people rely on thousands of gig workers to deliver groceries, groceries, medicines and other essentials. Gig workers were rated “essential” by most states during India’s statewide lockdown and were one of the few people allowed to do their jobs in recent months. They have used platforms as part of promotions and public relations, calling them “superheroes” serving a nation of 1.3 billion people. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a Swiggy spokesperson called the delivery drivers who support the “Hunger Saviors continue to deliver food to those in need” platform.
In reality, many gig workers say they have been treated apathetically. They have requested that their employers provide personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and disinfectant, and they have complained that they are being forced to allow longer hours to make ends meet due to the demand for food deliveries from customers who Worrying about getting infected through take-out containers has declined sharply. Some companies, like Swiggy, say they “regularly” provide gig staff with masks and reimburse them for disinfectant.
Now it is said that being asked to install a contact tracing app marked by controversy over privacy and surveillance is the last straw.
“Nine out of ten workers who work on delivery apps in the country are not very educated. They don’t understand English and they don’t understand privacy concerns. They care about making a living, ”Dharmendra Vaishnav, president of the Indian Delivery Lions Association, a union of more than 5,000 gig workers in the state of Rajasthan, told BuzzFeed News. “But there are some of us who are a little more aware of the controversy. We read newspapers, we are on social media and we know what people are saying about this app. Reason enough to push back. “
IFAT’s recent statement against Aarogya Setu is part of an ongoing backlash by gig workers in the country against what they see as a forced move by the platforms. Last month, a group of 37 organizations in India, including a handful of trade unions, sent a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as to federal IT and labor ministries, asking them to review the app’s impact on “privacy, autonomy and dignity Workers. “Later this month the Indian government softened its stance on the obligation for private employees to install the app, saying that workplaces should simply do their best to ensure employee compliance.
However, nothing changes for gig employees whose companies continue to require them to install the app on their phones.
According to experts, these workers are particularly at risk.
“Platform workers couldn’t resist having to install this app because it wouldn’t mean work,” said Kaveri Medappa, a graduate student at the University of Sussex who studies issues workers face on the tech platforms that are Driving India’s modern gig economy. “There is an extremely unequal balance of power here. The workers simply have to accept arbitrary conditions imposed by these platforms because there is no other choice. “
Customer does not need to have Aarogya Setu installed for any of the platforms in order to use their services. “It’s amazing how almost all of the ‘security measures’ developed by these platforms only keep an eye on the customer, not the worker,” said Medappa.
Other experts like Vinay Sreenivasa, a researcher at Alternative Law Forum, a Bangalore legal organization that works on social justice issues, say that gig staff install the contact tracing app is about optics. Most grocery delivery apps in India now clearly display a banner stating that the delivery person who took an order has Aarogya Setu installed on their device. “Who are these companies trying to protect?” Sreenivasa asked. “Your workers or your customers? You just want to show customers that all delivery agents have the app installed. “