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Robert Trigaux

Policing nasty Internet content: A growth business attracting more outsourcing firms



Magnifying-glassWake up and good morning. A curious and sobering story popped up yesterday in the New York Times about a technology vocation that unfortunately seems to have growth potential and, thus, is apparently attracting players like Tampa's Sykes Enterprises.

It's called Internet content reviewer. Big Internet web sites and other companies increasingly are outsourcing the job of reviewing their web pages, especially those that are supplied by users, for nasty content. The New York Times story starts off describing a fellow named Ricky Bess, 52, who spends eight hours a day in front of a computer near Orlando viewing some of the "worst depravities" harbored on the Internet. He works as a content reviewer for Telecommunications On Demand, after previously working in the stockrooms at Wal-Mart and Target.

States the story: "His is an obscure job that is repeated thousands of times over, from office parks in suburban Florida to outsourcing hubs like the Philippines." The story also notes the surge in Internet screening services has brought a "growing awareness that the jobs can have mental health consequences for the reviewers, some of whom are drawn to the low-paying work by the simple prospect of making money while looking at pornography."

It adds: "Workers at Telecommunications On Demand, who make $8 to $12 an hour, view photos that have been stripped of information about the users who posted them. Rapidly cycling through pages of 300 images each, they are asked to flag material that is obviously pornographic or violent, illegal in a certain country or deemed inappropriate by a specific web site." Here's the New York Times story.

The goal, according to this new vocabulary is "content moderation" -- essentially removing extreme content via these outsourced reviewing services.

So who's deciding what is nasty on web sites or merely unusual? Telecommunication on Demand, for example, offers a link from its "website contents services" page to some organization called the Content Compliance Council. Here's the "C3" web site which offers more description of its mission but never really clarifies what authority the group has to set content standards.

Separately, the federal government's National Telecommunications and Information Administration formed the Online Safety and Technology Working Group that recently concluded that global outsourcing firms that moderate content for many large Internet companies do not offer therapeutic care to their workers. The group’s recommendations have been submitted to the NTIA, which advises the White House on digital policy.

Who knew such job opportunities for outsourcing firms would crop up as the Internet expands?

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 11:00am]


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