Digital: microworkers without protection against the algorithm

“Digital hacks”, “the clickers”, “big data drudges”… The little hands who work online to annotate images and enter texts for a few cents are often compared to the jobbers of the past century. However, “Historically, jobbers were workers who hired other workers”, recalls Claude Didry, sociologist and director of research at the CNRS. Rather subcontractors, then.

An algorithmic intermediary

Nowadays, the “jobber” still exists in certain very specific sectors, such as the luxury industry for example, where jobbers call on special lacemakers who work at home. The digital hack is at the end of the chain.

An evolution due to the nature of the intermediary, which has changed. “In the past, it was a natural person, a former worker, a bit like a foreman. Today it is a black box-like algorithm, the purpose and programming of which are unknown to the worker,” describes the sociologist. With, the key, a dehumanization of the system: when the algorithm rejects the annotation of a red light by asserting that it is a stop sign, impossible to make him listen to reason.

A proliferation of “odd jobs”

The nature of the contracts is also different, since most online microwork platforms are only based on civil and private law, with general conditions of use. Unlike temporary work or subcontracting, the digital proletarian does not have an employment contract and is not made available by anyone. Being paid by the task, and not by the time spent, he may find himself working for nothing, without any social protection. “This digital micro-work challenges because it represents an amputated and degraded form of work as we classically understand it”, analyzes Claude Didry.

Especially since the competition takes place at an international level, outside the protective framework of French law. A form of social dumping, denounce some; a freedom to work, defend others. One thing is certain: in France, online microwork is not enough to live. According to a report by the International Labor Organization published in 2021, online tasks earn an average of $3.40 per hour, or €3.22…

“The click trades are necessary for the organization of the economy but pay poorly and are poorly considered”, says Laurent Gamet, lawyer and dean of the law faculty of Paris 12. Hence the fact that they often only serve as additional income. For the lawyer, it is moreover rather the multiplication of “odd jobs” that marks the real change in the world of work: “Independent activities, facilitated by digital technology but not only, are combined with one or even several salaried professions. »


Microwork in France

260,000 French registered on microwork platforms in 2019, but just over 10,000 worked there at least once a week.

More than half of microworkers are women and carry out this activity because they need additional income.

The wide variety of tasks can be summed up in two objectives: replacing and preparing artificial intelligence.

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Digital: microworkers without protection against the algorithm

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