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July 8, 2021

Micro-task crowdsourcing platforms, a controversial revolution?

July 8, 2021

Managing million of product references, a real bottleneck for marketplaces

It all started back in 2005 when Amazon decided to launch its micro-task crowdsourcing platform to support the back-office activities of its market-place.

Whether it comes to categorizing products, enriching product sheets with additional information, or even moderating reviews; these digital tasks are time-consuming, repetitive but essential. It requires an important human workforce to provide quality content and an easy product search to improve the platform’s attractiveness.

Towards a BPO 2.0 (Business Process Outsourcing)

Amazon could have just outsourced the above activities to traditional Business Process Outsourcing firms (BPOs). These giant companies that employ hundreds of thousands of workers and gather them within large offices. NO!

Amazon has decided to create BPO 2.0 with Amazon Mechanical Turk ; they have digitalised the activity through a platform that manages their back office activities and allows them to to have a remote workforce. The first digital micro-task crowdsourcing platform was launched!

In 2020, Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) is no longer the only service provider available, it is now competing with more than 100 platforms. This completely new business model is innovative and provides a large range of benefits for the different users. However, it can sometimes also lead to a sad disease- modern slavery.

Based on a double-edged business model

One of the main benefits of the business model for the users (platform and clients) is cost-effectiveness but it’s also one of the consequences of this malfunction.

Instead of having to employ and face direct and indirect costs (social security contributions, pension, health insurance, equipment…), they use freelancers based in emerging countries. This strategy can help to cut down the costs up to 10x.

Freelancers also called contributors are paid for the tasks completed. The platform assigns a unit cost (amount paid to the contributor) for each task by estimating the average time spent per task (e.g categorizing one product) before referring it to an hourly rate. If there is no work available for the contributors, it’s charge-less for the platform.

Moreover, as the competition is growing very fast, platforms always strive to cut down their costs, and the contributor’s salary is the easiest one to aim. Some contributors get paid less than 0,20$ per hour while not benefiting from any social protection. Contributors can also be fired from the platform, without any reason, overnight and without the platform having to justify itself.

Thus, these platforms may be financially attractive for companies and clients, but their "extreme flexibility" makes contributors status very precarious.

Towards a more ethical solution

Fortunately, there are a few platforms that are committed to value people first instead of profit! Solutions such as Sama or Imerit in the US and isahit in Europe use these digital-tasks as a way to help communities of people to overpass the digital gap, acquire new skills, and then realise their life project.

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