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The New Labor Market

A lot has been written recently about the new online labor market and several public policy issues related to it.  The Physics arXiv Blog, a science and technology blog, notes that :

Last month, Jonathan Zittrain, cofounder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, published an article in Newsweek about online labor markets such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Here, employers advertise mindless tasks that are too complex for computers but which workers from anywhere in the world can do for a few pennies per pop; things like labeling pictures with keywords or writing and sending spam. 

The Newsweek article goes on to point out several potential problems with the online labor markets, including that “online contracting circumvents a range of labor laws and practices, found in most developed countries, that govern worker protections, minimum wage, health and retirement benefits, child labor, and so forth.” 

The Physics arXiv Blog goes on to report that more recently John Horton from Harvard University conducted a survey and concluded that Amazon Turk workers “view both offline and online employees more or less equally. In other words, they believe their chances of being treated fairly are as good or better online as they are offline.” 

Regardless of workers’ perceptions of fairness, the online market raises a wide range of labor and employment law issues, particularly in the wage and hour area.  One can only wonder how long before the Department of Labor and/or the Plaintiffs’ bar takes notice. 

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