News & Commentary

June 1, 2023

Maddie Chang

Maddie Chang is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s Tech@Work, a helpline fired its workers after they unionized and then introduced a chatbot in their stead (which promptly malfunctioned), and Uber drivers in Nigeria who have financed their cars through Uber’s financing partner are having their cars impounded. 

Shortly after workers at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) hotline formed a union, the organization fired the workers and introduced a chatbot as an alternative to the helpline service. In the last year, the helpline, which was staffed by six permanent staff and 200 volunteers, provided services to 70,000 people last year through calls, text, and chat. The staff filed for an election with the national National Labor Relations Board back in March because of shortages, training, and advancement issues. After successful election results were certified, the NEDA fired the staff and introduced a wellness chatbot named “Tessa” as an alternative means of providing support. The union told Vice: “A chat bot is no substitute for human empathy, and we believe this decision will cause irreparable harm to the eating disorders community.” NEDA clarified that the chatbot is a rule-based chatbot and not powered by ChatGPT, and that the chatbot is not a replacement of the hotline but rather “a completely different program offering.” 

According to the the Daily Dot, after the chatbot went live, advocates from the community began testing its functionality and found that it provided harmful and inaccurate advice. NEDA told the Daily Dot that it has temporarily taken down the program until it can fix the “bug.”

As covered in Rest of World, Uber drivers in Nigeria who use the company’s car financing partner called Moove are raising issues around unfair working arrangements. Moove, Uber’s official vehicle financing program in Nigeria, allows drivers to buy vehicles with zero down payment and takes installments directly from Uber wages. Drivers who financed their cars through Moove went on strike in February in protest against Moove’s increased monthly payments and conditions that required drivers to work 12 hours per day, complete 12 rides per day, and drive for 6 days a week. The strike ended when Moove agreed to cut hours to 10 hours per day. But as reported in Rest of World, the company has not delivered on promises to provide auto, health, and life insurance or to do car maintenance. Drivers have said that they are not able to earn enough through the app to meet the installment requirements plus maintain the vehicles. This has led drivers to having their cars impounded and seized. 

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