Research ethics in the age of digital platforms

I am thrilled to announce the (open access) publication of ‘Research ethics in the age of digital platforms‘ in Science and Engineering Ethics, co-authored with José Luis Molina, Antonio A. Casilli & Antonio Santos Ortega.

We examine the implications of the use of digital micro-working platforms for scientific research. Although these platforms offer ways to make a living or to earn extra income, micro-workers lack fundamental labour rights and ‘decent’ working conditions, especially in the Global South. We argue that scientific research currently fails to treat micro-workers in the same way as in-person human participants, producing de facto a double morality: one applied to people with rights acknowledged by states and international bodies (e.g. Helsinki Declaration), the other to ‘guest workers of digital autocracies’ who have almost no rights at all.

INDL-6 Conference: CfP now open

We are excited to announce the 6th Conference of the International
Network on Digital Labor (INDL-6), scheduled to take place 9-11 October, 2023. The conference aims to bring together experts from various
fields to discuss the latest research findings and share ideas on the
topic of Digital Labor in the Wake of Pandemic Times. Following
long-term technological trends as well as exogenous shocks, the field of
digital labor is constantly expanding. This year’s INDL conference will
be an excellent opportunity to exchange insights and perspectives, as
well as a great way to make new friends among researchers, workers,
policymakers, and practitioners who study the future of work, social
justice, platforms, and artificial intelligence (AI).

The INDL-6 conference will be held in-person at the Weizenbaum Institute
for the Networked Society in Berlin, Germany. It is co-organized by the
International Labor Organization (ILO), the Digital Platform Labor (DiPLab) group, and Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB).

We encourage all interested researchers, post-graduate students, and practitioners to submit proposals that address aspects of digital labor, including but not limited to: gig economy, online labor, workplace surveillance, algorithmic management, AI-assisted recruiting, remote work, employee well-being, inequality, policy responses to Covid-19 crisis, regulation, organizing digital workers, gender and work, LGBTQ+ workers, intersectionality, disability, inclusion, AI, decolonial lens, informal labor markets, generative AI and work.

We welcome submissions that are interdisciplinary in nature and strongly
encourage proposals by researchers and practitioners from the Global
South across all topics.

The Call for Papers is available here and the deadline is 12 April.

How much does a face cost?

Three to five dollars: that’s the answer. As simple as that. I am talking about the behind-the-curtain market for personal data that sustains machine learning technologies, specifically for the development of face recognition algorithms. To train their models, tech companies routinely buy selfies as well as pictures or videos of ID documents from little-paid micro-workers, mostly from lower-income countries such as Venezuela and the Philippines.

Josephine Lulamae of Algorithm Watch interviewed me for a comprehensive report on the matter. She shows how, in this globalized market, the rights of workers are hardly respected – both in terms of labour rights and of data protection provisions.

I saw many such cases in my research of the last two years, as I interviewed people in Venezuela who do micro-tasks on international digital platforms for a living. Their country is affected by a terrible economic and political crisis, with skyrocketing inflation, scarcity of even basic goods, and high emigration. Under these conditions, international platforms – that pay little, but in hard currency – have seen a massive inflow of Venezuelans since about 2017-18.

Some of the people I interviewed just could not afford to refuse a task paid five dollars – at a moment in which the monthly minimum wage of Venezuela was plummeting to as little as three dollars. They do tasks that workers in richer countries such as Germany and the USA refuse to do, according to Lulamae’s report. Still, even the Venezuelans did not always feel comfortable doing tasks that involved providing personal data such as photos of themselves. One man told me that before, in better conditions, he would not have done such a task. Another interviewee told me that in an online forum, there were discussions about someone who had accepted to upload some selfies and later found his face in an advertisement on some website, and had to fight hard to get it removed. I had no means to fact-check whether this story was true, but the very fact that it circulated among workers is a clear sign that they worry about these matters. 

On these platforms that operate globally, personal data protection does not work very well. This does not mean that clients openly violate the law: for example, workers told me they had to sign consent forms, as prescribed in the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). However, people who live outside of Europe are less familiar with this legislation (and sometimes, with data protection principles more generally), and some of my interviewees did not well understand consent forms. More importantly, they have few means to contact clients, who typically avoid revealing their full identity on micro-working platforms – and therefore, can hardly exert their rights under GDPR (right to access, to rectification, to erasure etc.).

The rights granted by GDPR are comprehensive, but do not include property rights. The European legislator did not create a framework in which personal data to be sold and bought, and rather opted for guaranteeing inalienable rights to each and every citizen. However, this market exists and is flourishing, to the extent that it is serving the development of state-of-the-art technologies. Its existence is problematic, like the ‘repugnant’ markets for, say, human organs or babies for adoption, where moral arguments effectively counter economic interest. It is a market that thrives on global inequalities, and reminds of the high price to pay for today’s technical progress.

See the full report here.

Ciclo de charlas en Chile sobre inteligencia artificial, trabajo y redes sociales

Estoy muy emocionada y feliz de empezar un ciclo de charlas en Chile, principalmente en Santiago y Talca, con Antonio A. Casilli este mes de enero. Agradezco mucho a la Embajada de Francia en Chile, al Instituto Francés de Chile, y a la Fundación Teatro a Mil por esta oportunidad maravillosa. Gracias también a Juana Torres Cierpe y a Francisca Ortiz Ruiz por su ayuda en contactar con colegas, amigos y estudiantes de Chile.

Empezaremos por una charla titulada “Plataformas digitales, trabajo en línea y automatización tras la crisis sanitaria”, que tendrá lugar el día lunes 16 de enero a las 12:00 hrs en la sede de la CUT (1 oriente # 809, Talca). En esta charla presentaremos nuestras investigaciones sobre el fenómeno del micro-trabajo fuertemente precarizado que se desarrolla en las plataformas digitales. Agradezco mucho a la profesora Claudia Jordana Contreras y a la Escuela de Sociología de la Universidad Católica del Maule por la organización de este evento.

El martes 17 enero 2023, 11:00, hablaré de “Inteligencia artificial, transformaciones laborales y desigualdades: El trabajo de las mujeres en las plataformas digitales de ‘microtareas” en el Instituto de Sociología de la Universidad Católica y con el Quantitative and Computational Social Science Research Group. Gracias a Mauricio Bucca que ha organizado este evento. Estaremos en la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Campus San Joaquín.

El martes 17 por la tarde (a las 17:000 hrs), hablaré de “Ética de la inteligencia artificial y otros desafíos para la investigación sobre redes sociales” como parte de la Escuela de Verano del Centro de Investigación en Complejidad Social, Universidad del Desarrollo. Agradezco a Jorge Fábrega Lacoa y sus colegas para la organización.

El martes 17 a las 10:000 hrs, también habrá una ponencia de Antonio Casilli en el evento Congreso Futuro: “Trabajo global y inteligencia artificial. Los ‘ingredientes humanos’ ed la automatización” (Teatro Oriente, Pedro de Valdivia 099, Providencia).

El viernes 20 de enero 2023, a las 10:00 hrs, Antonio y yo hablaremos juntos de “El trabajo detrás de la inteligencia artificial y la automatización en América Latina” en un taller internacional organizado por la Universidad de Chile – con Pablo Pérez (gracias por la organización!) y Francisca Gutiérrez, sala 129, FASCO, Av. Ignacio Carrera Pinto 1045, Ñuñoa.

Sigue un evento organizado por el Instituto Francés, “La noche de las ideas”:

Viernes 20 enero 2023, 20:00 hrs, Centro cultural La Moneda, Noche de las Ideas, Santiago — Paola Tubaro “Automatización: ¿El fin del humano?” (con con Denis Parra y Javier Ibacache, Plaza de la Ciudadanía 26, Santiago).

Sabado 21 enero 2021, 16:00 hrs, Centro cultural La Moneda, Noche de las Ideas, Santiago — Antonio Casilli “¿Qué esconde la inteligencia artificial?” (con José Ulloa, Constanza Michelson y Paula Escobar, Plaza de la Ciudadanía 26, Santiago).

El miércoles 26 de enero 2023, a las 18:30 hrs en Santiago, habrá la presentación del libro de Antonio Casilli, “Esperando a los robots. Investigación sobre el trabajo del clic” (LOM, 2021) (con Paulo Slachevsky, Librería del Ulises Lastarria, José Victorino Lastarria 70, local 2, Paseo Barrio Lastarria).

Todos los eventos son gratuitos. Para la Noche de las Ideas y el Congreso Futuro, es necesario inscribirse online.

Social networks and social resilience

I have just received my copy of the new book edited by Emmanuel Lazega, Tom Snijders and Rafael Wittek on Social Networks and Social Resilience.

It has been an amazing journey that has brought all of us as chapter authors to share ideas, learn from each other, and reflect together, both with the whole group and in smaller cliques. It’s been one of my best experiences of collaboration toward an edited volume – perhaps because of the network-minded leadership we had!

The result is an incredibly high-quality book that is up-to-date, well documented, and at the same time accessible to all, especially students.

My contribution is a chapter on ‘Social networks and resilience in emerging labor markets’. Its premise is that the recent emergence of digital platforms as labor market intermediaries disrupts collective work practices, fostering fragmentation and individualized sub-contracting. I therefore discuss how social networks operate, and how they support social resilience, in these environments where isolation dominates. Most importantly I ask how we, as researchers, can apprehend them. To address these questions, my chapter reviews insights from socio-economic studies of networks, discusses their applicability to platforms, compares and contrasts them to existing evidence on platform work. The analysis confirms that overall, technology-enabled platform intermediation restrains sociability and limits interactions, but specific cases where networking has been possible highlight the fundamental advantages it may have for workers, and suggest directions for future research and policy action.

More information about the book is here.

The full text of the chapter is available here.

A successful INDL-5 conference!

On 3-5 November 2022, I was at the department of Sociology of National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA) for the 5th INDL conference “Features and Futures of Digital Labor”. The conference was co-organized by us (the DiPLab project at the Polytechnic Institute of Paris) together with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Labor Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Workers.

The INDL (International Network on Digital Labor) project started as ENDL (the “E” standing for “European”) 5 years ago with an inaugural meeting in Paris. Since then, it has expanded internationally, and its members organized larger conferences in Paris (2019), Toronto (2019), Milan (2020, online), and Edinburgh (2021, online). INDL’s conference in Athens was the first in-person meeting since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The key idea behind the creation of INDL, and the organization of these conferences, is that digital labor is central to the digital transformation of society. Despite its pervasiveness, though, the ways it is inscribed in the current organization of production and the state remain elusive. Different fields of the social and economic sciences, political theory, law, and philosophy have attempted to capture its distinctive attributes. The group’s initiatives contribute to this conversation by mapping the new working environments and fostering dialogue around the nature of digital work and the possible futures that academic research may help bring about.

Artificial Intelligence and Globalization: Data Labor  and Linguistic Specificities (AIGLe)

We organized the one-day conference AIGLe on 27 October 2022 to present the outcomes of interdisciplinary research conducted by our DiPLab teams in French-speaking African countries (ANR HuSh Project) and Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America (CNRS-MSH TrIA Project). Both initiatives study the human labor necessary to generate and annotate the data needed to produce artificial intelligence, to check outputs, and to intervene in real time when algorithms fail. Researchers from economics, sociology, computer science, and linguistics shared exciting new results and discussed them with the audience.

AIGLe is part of the project HUSh (The HUman Supply cHain behind smart technologies, 2020-2024), funded by ANR, and the research project TRIA (The Work of Artificial Intelligence, 2020-2022), co-financed by the CNRS and the MSH Paris Saclay. This event, under the aegis of the Institut Mines-Télécom, was organized by the DiPLab team with support of ANR, MSH Paris-Saclay and the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

9:00 – 9:15 Welcome session

9:15 – 10:40 – Session 1 – Maxime Cornet & Clément Le Ludec (IP Paris, ANR HUSH Project): Unraveling the AI Production Process: How French Startups Externalise Data Work to Madagascar. Discussant: Mohammad Amir
Anwar (U. of Edinburgh)

10:45 – 11:00 Coffee Break

11:00 – 12:30 – Session 2 – Chiara Belletti and Ulrich Laitenberger (IP Paris, ANR HUSH Project): Worker Engagement and AI Work on Online Labor Markets. Discussant: Simone Vannuccini (U. of Sussex)

12:30 – 13:30 Lunch Break

13:30 – 15:00 Session 3 – Juana-Luisa Torre-Cierpe (IP Paris, TRIA Project) & Paola Tubaro (CNRS, TRIA Project): Uninvited Protagonists: Venezuelan Platform Workers in the Global Digital Economy. Discussant:
Maria de los Milagros Miceli (Weizenbaum Institut)

15:15 – 15:30 Coffee Break

15:30 – 17:00 Session 4 – Ioana Vasilescu (CNRS, LISN, TRIA Project), Yaru Wu (U. of Caen, TRIA Project) & Lori Lamel (LISN CNRS): Socioeconomic profiles embedded in speech : modeling linguistic variation in
micro-workers interviews
. Discussant: Chloé Clavel (Télécom Paris, IP Paris)

Pathways in Network Science

I’m happy and honoured to speak today at the “Pathways in Network Science” online seminar of the Women in Network Science (WiNS) group.

Pathways in Network Science aims to give the stage to women and nonbinary researchers in network science to share their career paths or some pertinent aspects of it. Presentations can be a summary of the research topics explored along a speaker’s career path or even an autobiographical presentation about how opportunities and challenges influenced her aspirations and impacted her career path. It can also include discussing gender-related challenges and experience with individual strategies and/or systemic changes.

I’ll talk about myself in terms of mobility – both geographic and disciplinary – and the challenges and opportunities it represented. I’ll also talk about resilience – or how network science helped me to make true my dream of devoting my life to research. I’ll mention impact – or how to think of the place of science in society, and how network research can lead to positive change. I’ll conclude with the challenges ahead – and how they are not only scientific, but also deeply human and social.

Learners in the loop: hidden human skills in machine intelligence

I am glad to announce the publication of a new article in a special issue of the journal Sociologia del lavoro, dedicated to digital labour.

Today’s artificial intelligence, largely based on data-intensive machine learning algorithms, relies heavily on the digital labour of invisibilized and precarized humans-in-the-loop who perform multiple functions of data preparation, verification of results, and even impersonation when algorithms fail. This form of work contributes to the erosion of the salary institution in multiple ways. One is commodification of labour, with very little shielding from market fluctuations via regulative institutions, exclusion from organizational resources through outsourcing, and transfer of social reproduction costs to local communities to reduce work-related risks. Another is heteromation, the extraction of economic value from low-cost labour in computer-mediated networks, as a new logic of capital accumulation. Heteromation occurs as platforms’ technical infrastructures handle worker management problems as if they were computational problems, thereby concealing the employment nature of the relationship, and ultimately disguising human presence. My just-published paper highlights a third channel through which the salary institution is threatened, namely misrecognition of micro-workers’ skills, competencies and learning. Broadly speaking, salary can be seen as the framework within which the employment relationship is negotiated and resources are allocated, balancing the claims of workers and employers. In general, the most basic claims revolve around skill, and in today’s ‘society of performance’ where value is increasingly extracted from intangible resources and competencies, unskilled workers are substitutable and therefore highly vulnerable. In human-in-the-loop data annotation, tight breakdown of tasks, algorithmic control, and arm’s-length transactions obfuscate the competence of workers and discursively undermine their deservingness, shifting power away from them and voiding the equilibrating role of the salary institution.

Following Honneth, I define misrecognition as the attitudes and practices that result in people not receiving due acknowledgement for their value and contribution to society, in this case in terms of their education, skills, and skill development. Platform organization construes work as having little value, and creates disincentives for micro-workers to engage in more complex tasks, weakening their status and their capacity to be perceived as competent. Misrecognition is endemic in these settings and undermines workers’ potential for self-realization, negotiation and professional development.

My argument is based on original empirical data from a mixed-method survey of human-in-the-loop workers in two previously under-researched settings, namely Spain and Spanish-speaking Latin America.

An openly accessible version of the paper is available from the HAL repository.