CrowdSourcing: Exploration of Ethics

CrowdSourcing is essentially the practice of obtaining ones needs by allowing a large group of people, or crowd, to contribute. The theory is derived from the idea of outsourcing which became popular in the early 21st century. Although linked it is important to distinguish between the two. Business ventures would push for outsourcing because it included the cheapest labor which they could find. CrowdSourcing has now become the cheapest form of online collaboration and contribution between an organisation and the general. The specific concept of ethics in CrowdSourcing is one which has risen in popularity over the past five years. There are various academic scholars and professionals in their fields who have started to debate the idea. A false notion of ethics not being discussed is commonplace throughout these articles, suggesting that it is not on the forefront of CrowdSourcing study. However, there is a plethora of information through journals and on websites regarding the subject. Ideas vary between the extreme illegal unethical ideas produced in C Harris'(Schmidt) look at the dark side of CrowdSourcing to the less extreme labor rights mentioned in works of Ross Dawson and Sean Moffitt (Phneah). The grounded idea of CrowdSourcing would lead any person to derive a positive influence. However, there are certain ideas which must be taken into account when dealing with the general public. This blog post will talk specifically about the notion around strong standards of control and ethics, ensuring that future organisations can benefit from CrowdSourcing in a complete ethical and fair way.

Shelly Kuipers, from Chaordix notes how new companies who are inexperienced in CrowdSourcing run the risk of ethical issues if they do not have some sort of consultancy plan (Phneah). At the same conference the idea of a governance body should maintain the ethics of CrowdSourcing was rebuffed due to the transparent nature of the topic and the self governing done by the public who are involved. However, a separate governing body would not be needed, crowdsourcing.org has already begun to produce standards. The crowdsourcing industry website is attempting to create a standard designed to protect both crowdfunders(people pledging or investing capital) and fundraisers(people raising capital). Known as the CAPS program, Crowdfunding Accreditation for Platform Standards. The standard is attempting to foster the sustainable growth of the crowdfunding industry to provide much needed capital for projects and initiatives, start-ups and small businesses while certifying the project to ensure legality (CrowdSourcing).

With the new age of the digital world, standards and rules should be shared openly and freely through wesbites such as crowdsourcing.org. The constant need for protection and transparency has been a strong idealistic manner in the modern world as education continues to grow. People begin to further question ethical issues, gender relations and the implications of all problems which they can find. Can a company like Doritoes use a crowdsourcing campaign which asked for new flavours and videos, to purely advertise their own company. This social media aspect adds a whole different spectrum to the problems which have arisen. Crowdsourcing is still a young notion but the connection with social media could sky rocket the idea and the controversy.

Generally, the use of CrowdSourcing by social media, thus far, has been quite transparent. Twitter has asked the crowd to help translate tweets in several languages and historical crowsourcing projetcs are consistently pushing their ideas through social media. However, the ethical issues around advertising and gaining help for free, brings up an aspect which is missing in many articles. The pure notion of a CrowdSourcing project is that it uses the crowd, even if the transparency of a project is not clear, it would take a large amount of people to realize for the results to be useless. A certain amount would understand the intent of a company, the other half would not, but the similar question is why would they care? If a video is only about their new flavor for a brand, the personal choice of uploading and sharing surely negates the aspect of rights. A further look into the darker side of crowd work is the paid idea of Amazon Turk. perhaps one of the most contested form of crowd work. The system stems from the amount of work a person can achieve against others while earning an incredibly low amount of money. Jeff Howe, who originally coined the CrowdSourcing name, calls the project “both rather depressing and rather brilliant”. But, if a project does not give money for the work, what incentive is there for a crowd to participate?

The gameifcation of crowdsourcing projects is one of the strongest tool present to control and manipulate a crowd. Ian Bogost has likened gameification with exploitationware. The normal form is done by the use of a points system in which people can gain experience and thus move up the ranks of the website. Similar to the idea presented in Viki an Asian company which allows the crowd to add subtitles to some of their favorite shows(Phneah). Bogost believes that this kind of concept undermines the importance of the crowd in a business platform (Bogost). The essential argument of fair labor and pay is brought up constantly in these works. However, if a person gains their own sense of importance and enjoys such work why should that become a problem of ethics?

A interesting comparison is then produced. If a business can easily gather a crowd to do work, does that begin to demean a profession which a person has studied to perfect? Many design websites have competitions for logos and offer prizes for winners. Similar to Doritoes attempt to find a new flavor, a pure marketing strategy. Does this mean that these professions will begin to die out? Will crowdsourcing conclude by taking over certain professions in the working world? This scope is far too broad. Current trends, around 80% growth of crowdsourcing a year, would suggest continued growth, but surely there is a point in which a paid professional would be more desired? Without standards of ethics and control can CrowdSourcing continue? CrowdSourcing.org is the perfect opportunity to change the future a type of fair trade mark(Schmidt). However, this idea is central to the future of the concept and one which will be contested for years to come.

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Florian Alexander Schmidt. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Phneah, Ellyne. “Crowdsourcing Faces Ethical, Legal Risks | ZDNet.” ZDNet N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2014

Phneah, Ellyne. “S’pore Startup Finds Niche in Crowdsourced Video Subtitling | ZDNet.” ZDNet. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.

“The Crowdfunding Accreditation for Platform Standards | Crowdsourcing.org.” The Crowdfunding Accreditation for Platform Standards | Crowdsourcing.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Bogost, Ian. “Persuasive Games: Exploitationware.” Gamasutra Article. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.