Monopsony Online: Crowdworking and Market Power
We analyze crowdsourcing as a labor market through the example of Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT), a popular, commercial site that allows anyone to post and complete small, paid tasks online. We consider how power dynamics between requesters (“employers”) and crowdworkers (“employees”) set the terms for and expectations of employment. In theory, crowdsourcing could circulate work fairly and directly to individuals seeking microtasks. However, as practiced, commercial crowdsourcing services, like AMT, 1) systematically occlude the information workers need to choose appropriate employment opportunities and 2) implicitly make individuals bear the high costs of finding viable tasks to do. We frame the AMT labor market in terms of monopsony to diagnose this dynamic. Monopsony typically describes a situation where an employer has a greater degree of wage-setting power because of the limited employment opportunities available to a pool of workers. For this reason, evaluating monopsony online has important implications for how we think about digital work.
Our project therefore draws on ethnographic research and quantitative analysis of survey data to argue that market frictions give rise to the inequitable distribution of power among requesters and crowdworkers. We hypothesize market distortions on AMT are a result of 1) inadequate information about what we call the “goodness of tasks”; 2) high search costs imposed on workers; and, 2) reputation bias, which makes market entry prohibitive to new entrants. We conclude with insights from crowdworkers about how to reform online labor platforms to serve the needs and interests of all people dedicating their time and energy to crowdwork.