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The Giglancer And The Gig Economy

Posted in Business and Law, and World Affairs

Is there a difference between a freelancer and a giglancer? Ever since Fiverr took off seven years ago, freelancers who pitch for jobs have faced competition from giglancers, people who don’t have a career except to look for well-paid gigs, or quote a low price in order to win the gig. There are freelance sites such as People Per Hour where you can find freelancers who upload their CV or experience, which are different to sites such as Fiverr where people regardless of experience can bid for a gig. Since then other sites have sprung up where people can advertise for gigs such as a PA for a day, or for people to comment on their blogs, which aren’t actual jobs, but small tasks.

Several problems have arisen with the gig economy culture, and while it does keep unemployment figures down, there are dangers such as illegal activities, and workers being duped into participating, as well as opening the door for criminal activity. There are other sites such as MTurk, and One Space (formerly Crowdsource) who offer a range of tasks that have to be verified before payment is made. There are instances where tasks are rejected, mainly because the ‘client’ or requester didn’t like the outcome, or the task was made impossible to complete. In the past I tried a few of these to see what all the fuss was about, and these tasks include checking URLs, and keyword searches. Sometimes the links were broken, and if so you don’t get paid even if you report it, some were spam links, and then the keyword searches I realized weren’t research but a cheap way for the client to gain SEO with multiple users in different regions and with different IP addresses looking up their information.

Then came along Uber, and Lyft, (rideshare apps) which are great gigs for people who have a car and can make money on the side when they have time, without having lengthy application forms to fill out. It gives the person complete control, and they can work as often or as little as they like. The dark side is where drivers have taken advantage of the lack of checks and raped some passengers, or have gone on to rob homes of those they have taken to the airport. That’s why security checks are important, and one questions why a company waited for it to happen before they did anything about it. Anyone with brains knows that’s why checks are in place to prevent these criminal acts from occurring. That said, many can make a living out of Uber and Lyft, especially if they are in a city where demand is high. On the other hand town cars, mini cabs and taxis have seen their takings dip, but it’s about choice for the customer.

Today, the gig economy is thriving as a means of constant outsourcing, but is is good for society? If people have no benefits or career path is that a good thing? These are the kinds of jobs students, resting actors, out of work models, or those who flunked college took. The jobs are temporary and of the  transient kind such as fruit picking during summer, or the bar job while studying. Online there are tasks such as filling out surveys, watching videos, posting on forums and blogs, being paid to follow or like social media accounts. These tasks are not real jobs or work, but people pretend it is. Then there are slightly dodgy tasks besides paying for likes or follows on social media (we know it happens, so a large following doesn’t actually mean that amount of people visit a site or a profile) such as paying for competition votes, giving negative reviews on YouTube or Amazon to get rid of a competitor, and solving captchas. These gigs can get you arrested, your IP can be blocked, or your accounts banned, and all for a few cents. A giglancer will multitask and attempt to do several gigs at a time, plus they will have multiple accounts in order to gain referral bonuses. Basically they hustle and cheat the system, and while some sites do detect this behavior, often they are missed because these sites generally have a small team with limited resources to gain maximum profit, which is based on commission.

What is happening now is that people are giglancers full time and consider it a job. With all self-employed earnings, tax must be paid, and one wonders how many are declaring everything especially as some earnings are paid via bitcoin or through PayPal? Giglancers are also subject to exploitation, as clients know people are desperate for gigs, and in effect get cheap labor. However, these kinds of jobs already existed but you found them through the small classified ads in the papers or at a temp agency. Sites such as Task Rabbit have replaced this as an online agency alternative. Candidates post their photo and CV online where potential clients can then pick and choose who they wish to hire. The question to ask here is whether it’s safe to put your details out for all to see? Obviously some people won’t mind as they see it as great promotion for their services, but if you are applying for a job, would you want potential employers to see your public online profile? Temp agencies also encourage candidates to post their details online, but in this day and age with identity theft, is that wise or sensible?

All this wouldn’t be possible without the internet and smartphones where people can work remotely, and on the go. It also means that people in remote areas and third world countries can apply for these tasks, and use a VPN to hide their actual country of origin. While $5 ($4 after deductions) for a gig doesn’t sound much in the western world, in India or other similar countries, that is equivalent to a weeks wage or a month in some countries, therefore they are prepared to make low bids and provide false information to get these gigs. I’ve seen in on forums, where they exchange information on how to trick the systems to believe they are in the USA and not in the Philippines or Pakistan. The problem with this is that they undercut domestic workers, and as such keep the rate of pay artificially low. This is the equivalent of the Indian call center, but with no regulations to abide by. The sites in question do not protect anyone, nor are they responsible if payment is not made. They are the silent middleman with no responsibility.  Can people make a living from it long term? Maybe they can make ends meet, but they’re not going to be able to get a mortgage or go on vacation a few times a year by being a giglancer.

The gig economy has bridged the world of work between employer and entrepreneur, where the middleman makes a profit and becomes the part-time entrepreneur. I say part-time, because they are only in business when they have clients, and as an agency or agent will tell you, it’s about demand and supply. There will always be dry and quiet spells, such as summer or the period after Christmas where budgets are tight and no one is hiring, and in tourist areas it depends on the weather. So while giglancers have control over what they do and how much they make, long term is it viable? In the USA what about healthcare and benefits? There are calls to give workers the choice to have them, but isn’t that then becoming a contractual job? The idea of a gig is the freedom to accept or choose that gig without any pressure.

Freelancing is marginally different because it’s associated with a particular profession such as being a designer or writer. Their work is more than a gig, as it builds up their professional portfolio and creates a relationship with their client. However, many giglancers call themselves freelancers, but a freelancer in what exactly? Basically they will do whatever they can if the price is right. Many tasks are a work for hire, which means they cannot claim copyright to what they create especially for writers, designers, or artists as when they accept a gig, they are selling the rights too.

Giglancers have helped fill the gap in certain areas where temporary jobs needed to be filled, but once that garden has been mowed, or that banner designed then what? Outsourcing on a constant level is insecure, and while it’s better than people being on benefits or being homeless, what future do they have? There are limits too, and as more people are vying for these tasks that leads to more competition, and a giglancer must price their services accordingly or risk getting undercut. Once that happens, then the rate of pay decreases, and the gig economy will falter. For now there is demand and supply, but once these giglancers demand more, then clients will look for cheaper services, because loyalty is a rare commodity, as money and profits will always come first.

Governments are being pressurized to regulate the gig economy, and to ensure the workers have rights, but are they protecting or interfering? People also refer to this as online working or working from home (to work from home really means you work for an employer remotely), and do a mixture of gigs and tasks. For some this can lead to freelance and contract work if they find a client that likes them and wishes to take them on. While some see this as free enterprise, how long can the economy be sustained? Several sites have gone bankrupt, or others have such loose regulations they can exploit everyone, and just how safe are these sites with your personal information such as your email address, bank details, PayPal details, and phone numbers? Hacking is a concern for all, and if your details are held on numerous databases, how certain are you that this information won’t be sold or traded? There are pros and cons to being a giglancer, but never get complacent, because a good thing doesn’t last forever.

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