reportApril 21 2021

Digital Barriers to Economic Justice in the Wake of COVID-19

Michele Gilman
Mary Madden

Digital Barriers to Economic Justice in the Wake of COVID-19 by Michele Gilman and Mary Madden identifies three major digital barriers to economic justice arising from the pandemic: the collapse of benefits automation, expanded workplace and school surveillance, and the digital profiling of economic distress.

Pandemic scenarios covered include the automation and digital tracking of economic hardship such as medical debt, job loss, unemployment benefits, evictions, and loan default—as well as the disproportionate effects of potentially invasive new health surveillance tools, such as temperature checks for gig economy workers.

Gilman and Madden argue that “if technology is not advancing the racial and economic justice of all Americans, it requires regulation, re-tooling, or retirement.” The report uses a data justice framework—in which technology serves to empower people, rather than to oppress them—to suggest how policymakers might mitigate the harms experienced by low-socioeconomic status communities. The values underlying their recommendations include a focus on institutional, rather than individual responsibility; increasing stakeholder participation; ensuring greater transparency and accountability; identifying inequalities; and recognizing the diversity in personal experiences and uses of technology.

Ultimately, the authors conclude that, in order to address the numerous digital barriers to economic justice that are likely to persist in the wake of the pandemic, we will often need a process to determine whether certain technologies should be built at all.