For platform operators and clients
Are you a platform operator or client who wants to make sure your platform, or the tasks you post to someone else’s platform(s), meet high ethical standards? This page is for you.
The information is divided into five sections:
- Advice for successful platform work
- Calculating fair pay
- Dispute resolution
- Compliance with data protection regulation
- Compliance with regulation for online intermediation services (EU) or online marketplaces (California)
If you are a platform operator or client (or potential client) and you would like more detailed guidance on ensuring that your processes are fair, please feel free to contact us.
Advice for successful platform work
The question of employment classification is one of the most controversial in platform work. Many platform workers are required to agree that they are self-employed, not employees of the platform or client. However, if clients or platform operators control when and how workers do work — even indirectly — this may be inappropriate. For example, if workers are given special incentives to work at certain times or do specific tasks, this could indicate an employer-employee relationship. There have been quite a few lawsuits about this. There is no clear answer, and the legal situation is changing in some jurisdictions as a result of court decisions or new legislation. Our general advice to platform operators and clients is that if workers are classified as self-employed, they should have the following freedoms to minimize legal risk to the platform and/or client:
- Right and practical possibility to set own prices and negotiate these with clients
- Right and practical possibility to negotiate contract terms with clients and/or platform (especially for example regarding usage of intellectual property)
- Freedom from material and psychological incentives or disincentives to perform work (e.g., declining to accept offered work should not affect a worker’s reputation, access to future work, or payment for future work)
- Freedom from non-competition or non-circumvention clauses in contracts
- Freedom from non-competition or non-circumvention clauses in contracts
- Freedom to choose own tools and working methods
- Freedom to delegate work to others
A work arrangement in which the platform proposes that a worker is self employed but does not provide these freedoms normally accorded to self employed persons is legally risky for the platform and/or client.
Even when platform workers are properly classified as self-employed, platform work is real work and should therefore be paid fairly — at the very least, with minimum wage in the worker’s location.
If there is no minimum wage in the worker’s location, clients and/or platform operators should estimate a minimum “living wage” in the worker’s location and aim to pay at least this rate.
Even when work is paid per task rather than per hour, it is generally possible to estimate how long a task will take by piloting it with a small group of workers. For advice on setting fair pay, see “Calculating fair pay” below.
Clear and reasonable rules
The rules and timeline by which work will be evaluated and paid for should be made clear to workers in advance.
If the worker may be refused payment for work, the conditions under which this can occur — and the process by which the decision will be made — should be made clear in advance. Generally, workers should have the right to contest such decisions and to have their complaint reviewed by a qualified human employee of the platform who is empowered to revoke the decision if it is found to be mistaken.
Automated nonpayment decisions, including “voting” processes where several equally qualified workers do one task and “dissenters” are refused payment, should be avoided.
Nonpayment should always be explained, and ideally should not occur for any reason not listed in advance. Task instructions are an implicit contract between client and worker: if the worker follows instructions, they should be paid. Clear instructions — that address possible complications — are the client’s responsibility!
Test tasks and workflows
Tasks should be “piloted” with a small group of workers to ensure task instructions are clear and there are no technical problems that could lead to wasted time or unusable work. Workers should never pay the price of unclear instructions or technical problems not in their control.
Prompt, relevant, respectful communication
Customers and platform operators should respond to worker communications promptly, politely, and substantively. Clients should plan time to answer worker questions and make changes to instructions, technology, and evaluation processes based on worker feedback while their tasks are being worked on.
Form messages can be used, but overreliance on automated communication can lead to irrelevant answers to important questions — and, as a result, unusable work.
Platform operators should provide detailed billing information to clients, including how much of the client’s payment is paid to workers and how much is kept by the platform; each worker’s location, the payments they received, and the time they spent on each task; and information about tasks for which workers were refused payment, and why.
Calculating fair pay — an example
An annotation task is to be completed by German platform workers, and should therefore pay at least German minimum wage, 9.19 € per hour. First, the client or platform generates a reasonable time estimate for how long the task takes an average qualified worker. To do this, they may “pilot” the task in-house to get a rough estimate — but in-house workers may be more qualified than platform workers, and therefore may do the task faster. So a second “pilot” with platform workers can be helpful. Depending on the capabilities of the crowdsourcing platform, the qualifications of these workers can be specified and they can be asked to complete the task without interruption.
Dispute resolution and the Crowdsourcing Code of Conduct
Disputes arise in platform work. This is a given. Especially in situations where a client can decline payment for completed work or evaluate work performed, or where a platform operator reserves the right to suspend or close a worker’s account for a variety of reasons, it should be expected that disputes can and will arise.
The first and best step in dispute resolution is to expect that disputes will arise and to design legal terms, platform processes, and task instructions in such a way as to (a) minimize the likelihood of them arising and (b) set out clear rules about how they will be handled if they nonetheless arise.
Compliance with data protection regulation
Compliance with applicable data protection regulation is an essential part of successful and responsible platform work and should be considered by both platform operators and platform clients. Many people are intimidated by the apparent complexity of data protection regulation, but compliance does not need to be complex or burdensome.
While data protection legislation is evolving in many jurisdictions and its application to platform work is still being clarified, FairTube is in dialogue both with legal experts and with the platforms who have signed the Crowdsourcing Code of Conduct on this topic. Here we outline briefly our current understanding of some commonly arising data protection questions specific to platform work, especially those relating to compliance with GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation), the EU’s main data protection legislation.
- Platform workers and clients are “data subjects” under GDPR, and platform operators are “controllers.” Clients may also be “controllers” if they make decisions that affect workers, such as payment decisions and work evaluations.
Compliance with regulation for online intermediation services (EU) or online marketplaces (California)
Online services that act as marketplaces or other types of “intermediaries” are gradually being regulated. In the European Union, for example, Regulation 2019/1150, the so-called “Platform-to-Business Regulation,” entered into force in July 2020. In California, AB 1790, governing the relationships between “online marketplaces” and “marketplace sellers,” entered into force in January 2020. Broadly speaking, these laws require platforms to establish clear legal terms that explain when the platform may hold a seller’s (or “business user’s”) funds, set out the conditions under which the platform can suspend or close a seller’s account (and provide written explanations when it does so), and establish procedures for appealing such decisions.
The EU regulation also requires platforms above a certain size to create internal complaint handling systems and name external mediators with whom the platform is willing to mediate disputes that cannot be resolved via those systems.