Digital Sweatshops as Research Infrastructure? Critical and Practical Perspectives on Crowdsourcing in Academic Research (CROWDINFRA)

Funded by Kone Foundation (2023–2026)


This project examines the role of microtask crowdsourcing as a part of the academic research infrastructure. Microtask crowdsourcing is a method that distributes small tasks that require human intelligence to masses of non-expert workers available on online platforms, who are paid for their work. Natural language processing, computer vision and other data-driven fields are already dependent on microtask crowdsourcing for creating data for training and evaluating algorithms, but the use of crowdsourcing is now expanding to social sciences and humanities as well.

Previous research has identified a wide range of ethical issues associated with microtask crowdsourcing, which range from sweatshop wages to various forms of invisible labour, such as unpaid work needed for achieving sufficient reputation on the platform. However, much of the discussion about ethics has revolved around those who post work on the platforms and those who perform the work. In this project, we focus on the role of crowdsourcing platforms, which are often presented as neutral enablers of crowdsourced work.

To do so, we draw on sociological perspectives on technology and platforms, which we combine with approaches from the digital humanities and human computing to critically examine the role of platforms in microtask crowdsourcing, and especially in the context of academic research.


  • Understand how privately-owned crowdsourcing platforms control the labour and constrain the agencies of workers and requesters

  • Develop methods and tools for fair and ethical use of crowdsourcing platforms for academic research and beyond

  • Reconceptualise academic crowdsourcing as a form of participatory research governed by fair and transparent algorithms

Project members

  • Tuomo Hiippala (PI)
  • Laura Savolainen (post-doctoral researcher)
  • Rosa Suviranta (doctoral researcher)

Publications and activities

For an up-to-date list of publications and other research outputs, see the University of Helsinki research portal.