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Crowdsourcing Workforce Vulnerable to Exploitation

crowdsourcing labor, crowdsource employees, crowdsource Credit: Crowdsourcing image via Shutterstock

Ever considered a career as a crowdsourced worker? Many may not view the popular form of collective problem solving as a viable way to make a living, but new research suggests that a full-time job as a crowd worker isn’t such a far-fetched idea.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University believe that as the crowdsourcing industry grows, concerns about worker exploitation and sweatshop-like conditions will grow with it.

In recent years, crowdsourcing has increased in popularity with large vendors, and while many organizations don’t pay crowd workers for their efforts, others are starting to do just that.

Amazon Mechanical Turk is one of the most prominent examples of a large vendor using crowd work to complete Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) for cash. It claims more than 500,000 crowd workers in over 190 countries. CrowdFlower, another such vendor, allegedly has access to more than two million crowd workers worldwide.

There are even vendors, such as oDesk, that supply skilled labor in the form of translation, design and Web development services.

And yet, there are no minimum wage requirements for the crowdsourcing industry, which researchers fear could lead to massive exploitation of this digital workforce if measures are not soon taken to avoid that fate.

That lack of regulations, and the possibility abuse, threatens the great promise of crowdsourcing, said Aniket Kittur, assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

“What if I want access to the best people in the world, but for only five minutes of their time?” Kittur said. “As beneficial as that might be for some businesses, that possibility will not be achieved if the crowd workplace isn’t attractive for the very best workers and thinkers.”

Kittur and his colleagues predict that large portions of nearly any job, perhaps as much as 20 percent, might be crowdsourced in years to come.

Kittur and his team of fellow researchers have co-authored a research strategy that they believe will help avoid the creation of a stigmatized and exploited crowdsourcing workforce.

The team suggests, among other things, doing more research on the creation of career ladders, or opportunities for advancement, in crowdsourcing positions. The strategy also includes a call for more research on the use of artificial intelligence to assign and improve HITs.

And finally, Kittur and his colleagues believe that the industry needs to build in more learning opportunities in order to attract and maintain more talented workers.

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Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth writes about innovative technologies and business trends. She has traveled throughout the Americas in her roles as student, English teacher, Spanish language interpreter and freelance writer. She graduated with a B.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University. You can follow her on Twitter @techEpalermo or .