Centre for Internet & Society

Ambika Tandon and Aayush Rathi contributed an essay on how gated society management apps like MyGate and NoBrokerHood feed on caste and income inequalities in new datafied forms. The essay features in The Formalization of Social Precarities, an anthology edited by Murali Shanmugavelan and Aiha Nguyen and published with Data & Society.

Ashrit is an experienced platform worker. He has been a delivery worker for three years, job-hopping frequently. Ashrit has worked as a package delivery worker for three platforms: two courier services and a hyperlocal grocery delivery company, which promises compressed ten-minute deliveries over short distances. While navigating the city, he often deals with omnipresent surveillance tools deployed in apartment complexes owned by upper-class and dominant-caste homeowners. Ashrit is used to being screened at every apartment complex he enters, including having his picture taken and verifying details such as his name, mobile number, and the platform he is delivering for. The everydayness of constant identity verification means that Ashrit is not bothered much by it — he said he doesn’t mind the process so much as the delay it causes when customers forget to approve his entry.

MyGate is one such company offering “gated community management,” claiming to service over 25,000 gated societies in India. A competing application, NoBrokerHood, services over 18,000 societies. Apps of this nature have sprung up across urban India in the past five years, offering “society management” services to a niche market of gated societies. Their bouquet of services includes everything from property listings with a commission rate for the platform, security services, accounting services for maintenance and related expenses, and in-app discussion forums for residents. These apps market digital security, which allows residents to regulate entries and exits and make a database of all non-resident visitors in the society. The objective of these apps is to legitimize surveillance as a way of ensuring safety in gated societies. Through a preliminary search online, we found over 20 different companies specializing in digital solutions for gated societies. The industry even had a business exposition in Mumbai on “Housing Society Management,” focused on technology solutions for gated societies.

This study uses the framework of platform urbanism to understand surveillance platforms. Platform urbanism analyzes the growing power of digital platforms in cities. Urban geographers have argued that platforms are a symptom of current models of capitalism, which exploit “idle resources” to produce new forms of urban spaces and value where they might not have existed earlier. Airbnb and Uber are often used as examples of this new form of extraction and value creation from existing assets by monetizing empty rooms and car seats. We argue that platforms offering surveillance services are another instance of this wider landscape of platform urbanism, manufacturing the need for surveillance systems in elite urban enclaves. We use this case study to show that platforms monetize not just idle resources but social inequality and stratification to generate value and capital.

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