Bribes and Prejudice: India’s crowdsourcing revolutionJanuary 31st, 2011 by Ville Miettinen
If there’s one thing that unites people the world over, it’s complaining about politicians. Whether you’re black or white, old or young, right or left there’s nothing quite as human as having a good moan about the people in charge.
In the West, government corruption – whether it’s the influence of lobbying groups or the latest WikiLeaks scandal – is certainly a hot topic. But spare a thought for the billion or so citizens of India. On the subcontinent, corruption isn’t confined to news reports but exists at every level of society: a real and unwelcome intrusion into daily life.
Backhanders in Bangalore
In India, like everywhere else, high-level corruption is what makes the headlines. In 2010 there were money-laundering ministers, a cricket boss wanted for tax fraud and top journalists in the pay of industrial tycoons. But while they make good copy (just try typing “corruption India” into Google News), these guys are only the tip of the (very grubby) iceberg. Underneath is the more mundane, everyday extortion that can happen to anyone: paying bribes to get your electricity hooked up, at police checkpoints, to get your kids into college. It’s corruption at this level that has the crowd fighting back – crowdsourcing style.
Taking the saying that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” to heart, Bangalore based site ipaidabribe invites Indians to share their grievances online. Thousands of people have responded, detailing the place, time and amounts involved. The identity of the officials taking bribes isn’t revealed so the site isn’t so much “name and shame”, as an attempt to scope out the scale of the problem. Ipaidabribe lets citizens report corruption in three languages and authors hope to eventually take the concept worldwide.
Work in progress
Anti-corruption sites are just one example of crowdsourcing innovation in a country at full throttle when it comes to getting ahead online. Along with crowdsourcing as a means of protest, there’s also been a huge increase in the number of distributed workers. On Mechanical Turk alone estimates are that around 35% of Turkers are now based in India (Amazon has even introduced payment in rupees). The crowdsourcing workforce is predominately under 30 and educated to degree level. Put another way, thousands of young, intelligent citizens are opting into a marketplace where corruption – at least in the traditional sense – simply doesn’t exist. While crowdsourcing work has its faults (spam, bad payers, lack of persistent reputations) it certainly isn’t a job where you need an uncle in the business to get started. And, from simple HITs on Mechanical Turk to projects worth hundreds of dollars on Freelancer, there’s an ever-growing variety of web-based opportunity.
Of course, being bribe-free on the net doesn’t necessarily change anything in the real world. But I suspect that the motivated, independent and experienced Indian crowd will be unlikely to let offline corruption go on unchallenged.