According to the venereal newsweekly, the latest scourge threatening our planet is…digital sweatshops! I shit you not. Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of the university's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has the wholly imaginary scoop:
What's to worry about? For one thing, 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. Any jurisdiction that imposes restrictions on how crowdsourcing services operate might find itself bypassed—a firm like LiveOps could simply disconnect all its contractors in, say, New York, and make more work for people in Arizona.
People can also be enlisted to do work without any idea for whom they're working or why. You might synthesize a new chemical that winds up being used as a poison or in a bomb. Iran's leaders could ask Turkers to cross-reference the faces of the nation's 72 million citizens with those of photographed demonstrators. Based on Mechanical Turk's current rates, Repression 2.0 would cost a mere $17,000 per protester.
If labor can be summoned and directed from afar, fewer and fewer interactions will remain untainted by those seeking to influence their outcomes. I see a park of the future, its visitors staring into small screens, clicking or talking away. One puts the finishing touches on a $10,000 challenge answer. Another casually asks three friends to see a movie with him that evening, not because he wants to, but because he'll earn a $10 commission. A third is picking up a penny for counting how many others are there, not sure why or to whom it matters. We might miss the days when we went to the park just to have fun.
Or maybe you could just step away from the computer now and then, perhaps even take a nice walk in the park, and ponder how something can be a "sweatshop" if it's not a shop and no one sweats.
In June of this year Radley Balko helped put together 10 absurd Time magazine scare-story covers.