The Challenges of Digitalisation: the Gig Economy more troubling than giving up Data


All developed economies face enormous challenges in their digital transition process, such as what to do about privacy and their citizens’ data, the new labour frameworks brought about by digitalisation and the taxation of large platforms, who are barely anchored in national legislation. The experiences and perceptions of citizens are fundamental to addressing these challenges. To find out more about these experiences, the Center for the Governance of Change (CGC), a part of IE University, has carried out the second edition of a study that, beginning with its title, is focused on Europe. This is European Tech Insights, a report that tries to build, through a comprehensive survey in 11 countries, eight of them European (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom), a knowledge base for these digital transition processes.   

One of the most striking conclusions of this study, in which 2,883 people participated, is that the new labour framework, which the rise of the so-called ‘gig economy’ has led to, is judged harshly by respondents. Forty-six percent of Europeans claim to have ‘ethical remorse’ for using the services offered by companies such as Uber and Deliveroo. This percentage is growing in the most representative EU countries: in Spain it is 48%; in Germany, 51%; and in Italy and France, 53%. 

Support for stricter legislation that forces these companies to comply with the same labour regulations as traditional companies is a majority response on the survey in European countries (61%). In some countries, it is overwhelming: reaching 70% in Italy and 75% in Spain. 

The Impact from COVID-19

Work on the survey was done in December and January, but in view of the impact from COVID-19, its promoters carried out a ‘second round’ in April in four specific countries: Italy, Spain, China and the United States.

These ‘post-COVID’ responses seem strongly affected by the period of time in which they were given, when the situation was particularly dramatic in countries such as Spain, Italy, and France. The ‘shock’ appears quite clearly in the evolution of certain responses regarding the use of data and privacy.

Before the pandemic, 55% of Europeans felt that governments should not share their citizens’ medical records with companies like Google without their prior consent, even though doing so would help develop new medical treatments and early detection of diseases. However, over the past three months this concern about privacy has diminished. In Spain, this figure fell from 56% to 45% between January and April, and in Italy it fell from 52% to 39% in the same period. In the US and China, as well, there was a significant decline in those who did not want their data to be used for medical purposes without their consent. 

The pandemic has also affected, more generally, the perception of the importance of data privacy. In January, 47% of Spaniards were willing to reduce their privacy for the sake of economic growth and personal security. This figure reached 51% in April. In Italy, the increase in the percentage of people who were willing to give up privacy for economic growth and security was even higher: from 48% to 63%. 

Furthermore, in Italy and Spain, the first two European countries severely affected by the coronavirus, an overwhelming majority (67% and 79%, respectively) supported the implementation of restrictive tracking systems such as those deployed in China, with colour codes that establish who can travel freely and who cannot. 

In addition, in these four countries respondents were asked whether the authorities should raise taxes on companies, and especially on technology companies, to finance the recovery. In Italy and Spain, the majority response is that technological companies have to pay more taxes (53% and 40%, respectively); in China and the US, those who believe that all companies, without singling out any sector, should pay more taxes prevail.

“The most significant impact of the pandemic is that the most affected countries have seen a marked decline in concern for surveillance and data privacy, as is the case in Spain. Additionally, the consensus among Spaniards to tax large technology companies is on the rise”, summarizes Oscar Jonsson, academic director of the Center for the Governance of Change at IE University.

The study was carried out by Netquest, a company specialised in global digital data collection, which set an initial target of 250 responses in each of the 11 countries analysed (the eight European countries plus the United States, China and Mexico), finally reaching 2,883 respondents. Participants were selected to maintain representativity in terms of age and gender.