Future Friday: The dark side of the gig economy

Is the gig economy becoming the sweatshop of the future?

With the projections that 40% of the workforce may be gig workers by 2025 many people are paying attention to the gig economy. With stories if Uber workers making $80,000 or more per year while being free to set their own schedule many people find this attractive. But as with many things there is a downside, or a dark side, to the gig economy.

Internet sweatshops

According to the website vocativ, a network of sites that offer cheap labor and cheap pay have been created to take advantage of people sitting at home on their computers. Some of these are known such as TaskRabbit and Fiverr, others are not. The largest is run by Amazon and is called Mechanical Turk. Vocative says that Mechanical Turk offers jobs “Tackling millions of digital micro tasks daily, these crowd labor platforms comprise a web of virtual assembly lines that can be as precarious and low-paying as their predecessors from the industrial era. Moreover, they can offer a startling glimpse into the bleak future of low-wage, low-skilled work.”
Much of the argument against Mechanical Turk is the same as for other gig economy jobs. There is not minimum wage and there are no job protections. Someone working for Mechanical Turk is considered an independent contractor working on jobs that pay pennies for tasks completed. The work is called HITs, which stands for Human Intelligence Tasks. Things like completing surveys, determining if a site is family friendly, translating, and counting items in an image, are just some of the tasks.
The pay is what the company, called taskers, offers and what the worker accepts. The company can also choose to not pay for the work if they are not satisfied with the work. That has left many a worker unpaid for putting in 12 hours of work. This fits in with concept of Results Only Work Environments, but with no guarantee of any income.

Growing business

Vocativ says that these kind of arrangements are growing

Sites like Crowdflower, Mechanical Turk, Clickworker, UpWork, and its dozens of competitors comprise a large — and growing — market for small, digital tasks outsourced around the globe. The World Bank estimates that the online outsourcing industry generated close to $2 billion in revenue in 2013, a figure that could increase to $25 billion by the end of the decade. Crowdwork companies boast about workforces that number in the hundreds of thousands.

While this growing business is making money for the companies it is not doing so for the workers. Vocativ says:

Two recent independent surveys found that around half of Turkers in the U.S. earned fewer than $5 an hour, far less than the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage. Only eight percent of participants from a Pew study published last year said they made more than $8 an hour. Yet almost a quarter of them said they relied on Mechanical Turk for most or all of their income.

A dystopian picture

People wonder if this is the dystopian future of technology advances that displace workers. With little else to do but sit at home on the computer and working 12 hours a day completing surveys for pennies the future of the worker looks bleak.
To avoid this companies and governments need to work together to avoid such a dismal future for the majority of our workforce.

1 thought on “Future Friday: The dark side of the gig economy”

  1. Hello Mike,
    An impressive background, congratulations!
    What is your process for partnering with like-minded businesses? I represent a client in the consulting business in Detroit in your space. You might be interested to learn more about them for larger projects or collaborative events in your industry.
    Continued success,
    Best Regards,
    Anne Marie Bonardelli

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