Gig Work and the Digital Security Divide

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - 1:00 pm1:30 pm

Kendra Albert, Clinical Fellow, Harvard Law School


This is a joint work with Elizabeth Anne Watkins.

Computer security often takes place in an institutional context: large organizations in fields like finance, healthcare, law, and journalism set best practices and provide critical training for non-experts. Many tools used to protect users assume that security is administered by benevolent overlords who can set appropriate permissions, answer questions, and in general  save workers from themselves. However, as the future of work shifts towards contingent labor models and precarious employment, institutions may no longer play such a primary role. What then?

In a gig-based economy, independent workers are cut off from organizational sources of security training. Security costs are externalized to the individual worker, who is no longer conceptualized as part of the organization. This in itself may have an outsized impact on marginalized communities due to their overrepresentation in gig work, denoting a coming class-based disparity of security awareness.

But even more impactful, gig workers have been relegated to outsider status, often categorized as another source of risk. What were once trust-based relationships may become new sources of vulnerability to be managed. The logical outcome of identifying users as a threat is a widening of mistrust of groups of people who were once trusted insiders, and with that, we risk fundamental changes to cultural conceptions of security.

Kendra Albert, Clinical Fellow, Harvard Law School

Kendra Albert is a technology lawyer who specializes in computer security, and an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. They work at the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School, where they provide pro bono legal services to clients on issues related to the Internet and emerging technologies. They previously worked at Zeitgeist Law, a boutique technology law firm in San Francisco, and have interned at the EFF, Cloudflare, and Public Citizen. Kendra holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.H.A. from Carnegie Mellon University. Their paper “Computer Security Tools and Concepts for Lawyers” was published in the Green Bag in 2017 and won an award for Best Legal Hack from DC Legal Hackers. The Precarious Security work is a collaboration between Kendra and Elizabeth Anne Watkins, a PhD student in Communications at Columbia University.

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@inproceedings {208135,
author = {Kendra Albert},
title = {Gig Work and the Digital Security Divide},
booktitle = {Enigma 2018 (Enigma 2018)},
year = {2018},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jan

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