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Online Labour Markets: Fruit Fly for Social Scientists, Conundrum for Policy Makers

23 Sep 2013

In recent years, a number of fully global, online labor markets have emerged. In these markets, buyers hire workers from around the world to perform tasks amenable to remote completion, such as computer programming, data entry and graphic design. This talk will describe the important features of one such market, worth over $1 billion to date, explain several large-scale social scientific experiments conducted within that market, and conclude with a discussion on the policy issues raised by online work and online labor markets. One experiment involved introducing e-commerce style recommendations to a labor market, which had surprising effects on non-recommended candidates. Other experiments involved increasing the “cost” of online job applications to increase their signal value, and examining how market participants conceal their preferences for strategic reasons. The policy discussion will address concerns about downward wage pressure, abuse by unscrupulous employers and circumvention of existing labor protections, and consider the potential of online labor markets to contribute to global development via “virtual migration”.