Hundred years ago human rights organizations were fighting for a regulation to avoid the exploitation of workers at factories as well as a child labor at large. In Europe, the labor movement emerged during the industrial revolution, when agricultural jobs declined and employment moved to more industrial areas. Organizations such as the International Workingmen’s Association fought for the right of the workers to organize themselves and the right to an 8-hour working day. In 1916 the first federal child labor law was passed in USA. Known as the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916, it encompasses prohibiting the sale in interstate commerce of goods produced by factories that employed children under fourteen or mines that employed children younger than sixteen.
Figure 1: Hine, Young doffers in Mollahan Mills, Newberry, S. C., Dec. 3/08. Library of Congress
Nowadays, many countries regulate appropriate working conditions of employees by legislation. Most countries restrict child labor, ensuring them a right to education, safety, and a healthy environment. But new communication technologies create new challenges for regulators of working conditions. Within the last decade we have witnessed the rise of crowdsourcing, which is understood as the “act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call” (Howe, 2006). Crowdsourcing gives promises regarding cost reduction, a wide access to resources, skills and items, as well as short-term knowledge gathering. But on the other hand, crowdsourcing could lead to exploitation and unintended consequences for the workers and their communities. There is a lack of regulation of labor rights in crowdsourcing contexts. There are therefore several crucial ethical aspects within crowdsourcing practices, which need to be examined.
For instance, Amazon Mechanical Turk workers are hired as independent contractors, wherefore the sourcers are allowed to avoid minimum-wage laws, overtime rules and workers’ compensation benefits (Postigo, 2003; Cove, 2007). Crowds at risk has also been researched foremost from a labor rights perspective, for example, research by Irani and Silberman (2014) leading to calls for collective action by crowd workers (Salehi et al. 2015), and also the design of tools to support collective action (Irani and Silberman 2013). Monetary remuneration in particular corresponds to an area of conflict among crowd workers (Bederson & Quinn 2011).
However, as the workers in these online contexts are self-employed and manage their own time, the risk of self-exploitation is high, especially in cases when the workers identify themselves with their work as in more creative industries such as art and design (Webster & Keith 2016). Due to market monitoring, workers are also exploited twice, therefore social media surveillance practices requires a new way of looking at exploitation and alienation, as social media such on the one hand facilitates online commons and creativity, while on the other hand, the data it generates (e.g. about user behavior) can be mined and alienated from the users (Andrejevic 2011).
Certain demographic groups are also absent in this social production of data, which can become a risk from a democratic perspective when crowdsourcing is used in open government and e-government contexts (Hansson et al. 2015). Studies of Amazon Mechanical Turk (Fort et al. 2011, Wikipedia (Ortega et al. 2008) and Twitter (Duggan et al. 2015) indicate a lack of representativeness in terms of age, gender and education. Further, blurring the notion of work and play transforms the way we work and live and opens up new forms of exploitation, such as children (even not directly labeled as labor) contributing as consumers or “players” in an increasingly “gamified” lifeworld.
As the Internet use becomes more and more mobile, subsets of crowdsourcing such as participatory sensing allow sourcers to ask the crowd to gather, analyze, and share data and information using the integrated sensor capabilities of their mobile devices (Burke et al, 2006). During these crowdsourcing activities, the workers sometimes place themselves in risky situations (for example while taking photos of an emergency or reporting a speed camera).
Employees of large organizations and recognized professions are likewise often beneficiaries of policies meant to protect and support employees. One such area of protection revolves around privacy and security. Doctors, lawyers, and journalists can do their work in large part because of procedural legislation as well as ICT tools protecting their practice, their clients, and their sources. Edward Snowden has pointed out the journalist, in particular, as a „high-value target“ for cyberattack and surveillance (Huang & Snowden, 2016). Gig and freelance workers do not have such protections. These newly “independent contractors” become responsible for their own digital infrastructures, and are often marginalized out of the training and support technologies given to traditional employees by employers. As more creative and knowledge-based institutions dissolve into freelance work, more such workers will be expected to furnish and manage their own ICT solutions.
As in Professor Trebor Scholz’s (2016) words: “Crowdsourcing industries are wiping away over 100 years of labor struggles overnight” and “Before the Internet, it would be very difficult to sit someone down for 10 minutes of work, and then fire them”. Following Schumpeter’s (and Marx) notion of “creative destruction”, the questions arise what the destructive forces at work are, how work is changing, and what unregulated areas of “work” are therefore exploited. From a CSCW perspective, it seems obvious that phenomena such as micro-tasking, the sharing economy, data mining, and outsourcing work to crowds online might lead to a renegotiation of the concept of work as well as workers’ rights. This one-day workshop explores crowds at risk as well as their exploitation and which role ICT plays within this areas of tension. By using mini-presentations and brainstorming sessions, the workshop will result in a research agenda for addressing these questions.
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