The life of ghostworkers: doing online tasks from eight in the morning until eternity

Ghostworker Martha Monique works from home
Ghostworker Joost working from home
Phil Nijhuis

You don't see them, yet they are present in your life every day: ghost workers. They conduct small online tasks to make data suitable to train AI-systems, for example for your search engine or your virtual assistant. Tasks could be classifying images or cleaning data. This online workforce is invisible, but professor Claartje ter Hoeven is trying to change this with her research.

Ghost workers work through online labor platforms where they can sign up for small online tasks. They often do not see for which company they are working. The appeal of this work is that you can set your own hours and work from home. But labour relations are completely skewed. 

Ghost workers Ivan, Michaela and Maria talk about their working conditions. "I have no supervisor or manager," Maria says. Ivan adds: "If you don't meet their standards, you can be fired just like that."

Making ghost workers visible

Claartje ter Hoeven makes ghost workers, their working conditions and its impact on their well-being, visible in her five-year study. "They are not under contract anywhere and they earn a few hundred euros a month with this, and that is a high estimate."

Worse, ghost workers sometimes don't get paid without notice or are removed from a platform, without any explanation. This also happened to Michaela, watch her story and that of the others in this video:

Ghost Workers - Fortune Tellers

More information

Claartje ter Hoeven was recently interviewed by Dutch news website EenVandaag. See the item here (in Dutch).

Claartje ter Hoeven recently advised NOS on 3 on microwork. The video can be seen here (in Dutch. Ter Hoeven herself isn't seen in the video).

Related content
The mental health of people who do so-called platform work is worse than that of those who do not. This is according to research by the strategy group at ESSB.
Bezorger thuisbezorgd
The government can play a major role in improving the working conditions and welfare of platform workers. This is according to research by Erasmus University
Related links
Read all about the researchproject Ghost Work

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