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This talk examines the assemblage of policies, practices, and algorithms of suspicion that control workers’ access to wages and work on digital labor platforms. Irani shows how “fraud” acts as a quasi-legal category that legitimizes and protects platform operators’ unilateral decisions to fire workers. This case study begins with the problem of opaque account suspensions suffered by good faith workers on the platform Amazon Mechanical Turk. Through an investigation of patents, research papers, and industry documentation, the talk constructs a view of the models and assumptions Amazon deploys to guess the difference between good and bad workers. These algorithms and the opaque organizational routines that deploy them submit workers to automated surveillance, suspicion, and terminating action – managing workers at scale and at a distance. These practices may have discriminatory consequences, sometimes in ways recognized by legally recognized protected categories and sometimes not. Irani concludes by arguing that existing digital rights frameworks must be revised to give workers rights and protections against platforms’ algorithmic forms of management.

Lilly Irani is an Associate Professor of Communication & Science Studies at University of California, San Diego where she co-directs the Just Transitions Initiative. She is Faculty Director of UC San Diego's new Labor Center. She also serves as faculty in the Design Lab, Institute for Practical Ethics, the program in Critical Gender Studies. She is author of Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India (Princeton University Press, 2019) and Redacted (with Jesse Marx) (Taller California, 2021). Chasing Innovation has been awarded the 2020 International Communication Association Outstanding Book Award and the 2019 Diana Forsythe Prize for feminist anthropological research on work, science, or technology, including biomedicine. Her research examines the cultural politics of high-tech work and the counter-practices they generate, as both an ethnographer, a designer, and a former technology worker. She is a co-founder of the digital worker advocacy organization Turkopticon.

This event is co-organised by the Centre for Digital Culture and the Digital Futures Institute. This event is wheelchair accessible. The event will be filmed, by attending you consent to appearing in any footage or stills of the event. Tickets are limited so if you book but cannot come, please kindly cancel. For further information and to inform the organiser of any access requirements, or to sign up to our waiting list, please email

Event details

Anatomy Lecture Theatre
Strand Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS