Delivering Edinburgh: Uncovering the Digital Geography of Platform Labour in the City

View of Victoria Street in Edinburgh

Researchers are exploring the hidden geography of the on-demand app-based food delivery platform, Deliveroo, by making visible the unseen and obscured cycling routes of food couriers in Edinburgh. The project, led by University of Edinburgh researchers Karen Gregory (SPS) and Miguel Paredes Maldonado (ESALA), contributes to an understanding of how digital platforms, and the attendant digital labour these platforms require,  shape local urban and economic space.

Data collection involved a mixed-methods approach. Qualitative research involved 25 interviews with Deliveroo riders. Quantitative data was gathered digitally through smartphone apps and a custom-made mapping workflow, which was developed in collaboration with student researchers and used by Deliveroo riders to track and map their delivery work.  

Findings of the qualitative research element suggests the presence of ‘two Edinburghs,’ or a city divided by physical geography and, importantly, by the navigation of risk. Riders actively discussed the strategies used to negotiate the city safely while working. Geo-localised digital data revealed the ways in which safety negotiations have become collective navigations through the city of Edinburgh. 

The authors faced the challenge of how to use digital methods in the spirit of "hacking" the platform. Special attention was given to addressing the ethical issue of asking riders to generate a new data set from the GPS app in order to help us understand a proprietary, or “black-boxed”, platform. The authors suggest that “urban platform hacking”, when used with care, can be used as a powerful instrument to challenge urban narratives that foreground the integrated, optimised flow of resources and labour in the city.