Date of Award

June 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Jennifer Stromer-Galley

Second Advisor

Lael Schooler

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Crowd work as a form of a social-technical system has become a popular setting for conducting and distributing academic research. Crowd work platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) are widely used by academic researchers. Recent scholarship has highlighted the importance of ethical issues because they could affect the long-term development and application of crowd work in various fields such as the gig economy. However, little study or deliberation has been conducted on the ethical issues associated with academic research in this context. Current sources for ethical research practice, such as the Belmont Report, have not been examined thoroughly on how they should be applied to tackle the ethical issues in crowd work-based research such as those in data collection and usage. Hence, how crowd work-based research should be conducted to make it respectful, beneficent, and just is still an open question.

This dissertation research has pursued this open question by interviewing 15 academic researchers and 17 IRB directors and analysts in terms of their perceptions and reflections on ethics in research on MTurk; meanwhile, it has analyzed 15 research guidelines and consent templates for research on MTurk and 14 published papers from the interviewed scholars. Based on analyzing these different sources of data, this dissertation research has identified three dimensions of ethics in crowd work-based research, including ethical issues in payment, data, and human subjects. This dissertation research also uncovered the “original sin” of these ethical issues and discussed its impact in academia, as well as the limitations of the Belmont Report and AoIR Ethical Guidelines 3.0 for Internet Research. The findings and implications of this research can help researchers and IRBs be more conscious about ethics in crowd work-based research and also inspire academic associations such as AoIR to develop ethical guidelines that can address these ethical issues.


Open Access