Since 2012, the platform economy has experienced stunning growth. While this growth can be measured in terms of the capitalization of platform companies or their gross revenue, a particularly relevant metric is the participation rate of those who earn money on the platform. It has been estimated that monthly participation grew 10-fold from October 2012 to September 2015. While this participation constitutes only 1 percent of adults in the United States, the cumulative participation rate reached 4.2 percent by the end of that period. For labor platforms, which are of particular interest in the current analysis, annual growth rates ranged between 300 and 400 percent in 2013 and 2014. While the growth rate has slowed, it continues to be robust1 and for good reason. These platforms provide better and more efficient services for those who purchase them. They also provide an opportunity to earn income for those who find work on them. A number of regulatory issues arise alongside these demands for services and work. Among these are labor regulation and workers’ rights, consumer protection, public goods (including taxation), and competition. Regulation, of course, is the result of a political process, and many of these issues are highly contested.
This paper explores the emergent political process of the regulation of labor, or labor-brokerage, platforms through a case study of Uber.