Society | DOI: 10.1145/2492007.2492015
software aims to Ensure fairness
in crowdsourcing Projects
The debate rages on about whether crowdsourcing
is a win-win for workers, as well as for employers.
Are Workers Whoparticipate in the highly distributed microlabor online system known as crowdsourcing treated fairly? And what
about the crowdsourcing employers?
It is not a new topic of debate, but a
new paper presented at the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in
Computing Systems in Paris in April
is likely to heat up the discussion considerably, especially since one of the
paper’s two authors urges computer
professionals to take a harder look
at crowdsourcing—a market which
reaches an estimated tens of millions
of people annually—and think not
just about the technology that makes
it possible, but also about the human
workers and how they are impacted.
That author, Lilly Irani, a researcher and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Informatics at the University
of California Irvine, also developed
Turkopticon, a software program
released in February 2009 that was
designed “as an ethically motivated
response to crowdsourcing workers’
invisibility,” says Irani.
Photogra Ph from Shutter Stock.com
She recalls being troubled by what
she perceived as the plight of workers
being paid just a few dollars an hour to
perform tasks on Amazon Mechanical
Turk (MTurk), an online crowdsourcing marketplace launched by Amazon.
com in November 2005 as a meeting
place for “requesters” (employers) with
large volumes of microtasks or HITs
(Human Intelligence Tasks). Indeed,
one worker complaint heard over and
over again was that requestors are able
to walk away with the work submitted
without paying for it, because Amazon
leaves payment completely up to the
discretion of the employers, who can
claim they are unhappy with the quality of the work.
“There is no process for the employ-
er to justify its decisions to workers or
to Amazon,” she says.
And so Irani created Turkopticon,
a software tool cheekily named after a
prison surveillance design with a guard
tower in which there may or may not be
a guard. The possibility of surveillance
“our hope is that
turkopticon will not
only hold employers
but also induce
induces prisoners to discipline themselves, says Irani.
Functionally, Turkopticon is a
browser extension that, when workers
search MTurk for HITs, “scrapes the requester ID that is within the HITs market page list and inserts any reviews
that other workers have written about
that particular requester. So that when
a worker is deciding whether they want
to take the assignment or not, they can
also review a quick summary of what
other workers have said. Our hope is
that Turkopticon will not only hold employers accountable, but also induce
better behavior,” she explains.
Turkopticon reportedly gets 120,000
page views per month and has been installed almost 10,000 times. Yet, has it
made a difference?
“I can’t say that crowdsource wages have gone up,” Irani says. “But I’ve
heard requesters say at crowdsourcing