Veronique Emond-Sioufi

Program: PhD, Human Geography

Supervisor: Kendra Strauss

Committee: Geoff Mann, Jim Thatcher

Research: Big Data, Microwork: labour geographies of the data economy

The business models of the world's largest companies increasingly centre on the production, collection, and monetization of vast amounts of digital data, or big data. Among its many applications, big data is used for targeted advertising, the optimization of supply chains, government service provision, and in the surveillance and predictive policing of populations.

While often presented as an algorithmically-managed data science, the value of big data depends on hidden human labour: the use of human intelligence to train machine learning algorithms through the collection, cleaning, and processing of that data. Mediated by web platforms, this work is broken down into small sets of easily crowdsourced tasks that can be completed by anyone, anywhere, for as little as pennies per unit, or what is commonly referred to as ‘microwork’. Although digital work can offer people various freedoms, that flexibility comes at the cost of isolation, precarity, and diminished legal protections. Digital workers have little recourse for justice as companies rely on notions of the digital as a space de-tethered from the material world and its regional regulatory frameworks, and further distance themselves from their roles as employers, dubbing the workers independent contractors and pointing to algorithms as the managers of that work.

As part of a broader effort in digital labour studies, critical data studies, and political economy to map the sociopolitical assemblages of the data economy, my research aims to shed light on the importance of human labour to this economy and situate microwork in a historical and material context.

This research is informed by my work in a year-long KEY-funded critical data studies project on the social challenges of big data research (2018-2019), as well as my master’s research which investigated the operative tensions in the use of privately owned platforms as places of public discourse and collective organizing (2015-2018).

Previous education:

  • Master of Arts (Communication), School of Communication, SFU
    #Unions: Canadian Unions and Social Media
  •  Bachelor of Humanities, College of the Humanities, Carleton University

Scholarships and Awards:

  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship-Doctoral (CGS-D), 2019
  •  Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship-Master’s (CGS-M), 2016