Below Minimum Wage in the Mechanical Turk Sweatshop

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  1. relache profile image72
    relacheposted 10 years ago

    This was cross-posted on BoingBoing today, but originates on Priceonomics. … mechanical

    "....the average hourly “wage” of someone earning money on Mechanical Turk is $1-$5. Roughly half of the Mechanical Turk workforce is American, which means that they are working for less than the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Since the workers are considered independent contractors, they are not covered by most labor laws..... A contributor the New York Times economics blog has called for labor protections. Enthusiasts of technology like professor George Williams have questioned the low wages. A Newsweek Article described services like Mechanical Turk as having merit, but looking a lot like high-tech sweatshops."

    1. Ella Quirk profile image83
      Ella Quirkposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      Yep, the internet is the free market global economy in action. No united workers organisations, no protections, no labour power.

    2. MelissaBarrett profile image58
      MelissaBarrettposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      On a side note, I traveled down the rabbit hole to actually find the study that this article, based on another article, based on another article was based on.

      The survey was given on MTurk, and I by chance happened to be one of the participants.

      I hope they realize that there is a sub-group of mTurk workers that only do surveys.  Survey pay on MTurk sucks in general (but it's better than on lots of pay-for-your-opinion scams) so they essentially biased their own data by insuring that those who do the lowest paying jobs regularly ended up being the majority of the "study" respondents.

      Like I said, there's a learning curve and if you are outside that curve, it's bleak.  The equivalent would be somebody coming into online article writing with no knowledge of SEO, affiliate programs, etc vs. someone who has actually done the research to do it correctly.

      The someone who hasn't done the research is always going to complain that their articles aren't making them money.

  2. profile image0
    EmpressFelicityposted 10 years ago

    ...and if such regulations were introduced, Mechanical Turk would close its doors to American contractors. Such is the reality of a global marketplace, where there is effectively infinite free movement of labour (because all the work is done online so it doesn't matter where you're based as long as you have an Internet connection and a computer).

  3. profile image0
    DigbyAdamsposted 10 years ago

    It might not be a lot of money, but if someone needs gas money or lunch money for their kids, it's a quick and easy solution. Seriously how much money does the average Hubber make from their hubs these days. Atleast mTurks know some money will come in. It might keep them away from payday loans and other onerous loansharkig.

    Sometimes a person needs $20 for a doctor's co-pay and they don't have it. This could be a solution for times when a little money means a lot.

    1. To Start Again profile image70
      To Start Againposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      Very good point.

      I doubt anyone on MTurk is doing it as their only source of income. And if you can take 20 or 30 minutes out of your day to make a few bucks without ever leaving home then good for you. Whether it's MTurk or HP or something else.

  4. paradigmsearch profile image60
    paradigmsearchposted 10 years ago

    Holy Hot Dog!!! Don't mess with relache!

    Meanwhile, back to Mechanical Turk...

    "Workers of the World Wide Web unite, Amazon's Mechanical Turk labor force is finding ways to organize" … rkers.html

    1. Jean Bakula profile image92
      Jean Bakulaposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      Go Relache!
      I never thought about this in context. It seemed like a good way for someone to pick up a small bit of cash if they had time and a computer. But as I thought about it more, besides my P/T work writing online, I can think of 3 friends who work from home online, and their financial status widely varies. Freelancers and those who work for pay should have a Union to speak for their rights.

  5. WriteAngled profile image73
    WriteAngledposted 10 years ago

    The most ludicrous issue for me is the fact that people working for pauper's pay are thought by HP to be an appropriate means to ensure quality on this site.

    I am fairly certain that the vast majority of MTurks find every way possible to game the system so as to put in the least effort possible for the pittance they are paid.

    Comparing MTurk pay for strictly defined work to HP earnings is not valid. Many people writing on HP are not seeking to make a living from it. They write as and when they wish on topics they wish to cover.

    1. Sherry Hewins profile image92
      Sherry Hewinsposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      I have used Mechanical Turk. I didn't to it to make a living, I was well aware that the pay would be low. It was just an experiment done while I was immobilized with a broken foot. It was through working my "hits" there that I discovered that I liked the writing hits the best. That indirectly lead me to HubPages.

      It may be comparing apples to oranges, but it took me about three weeks to make $50 at MT. It took me 7 months to get my first payout at HP. So, even if the pay is pitiful, if earning money in the short term is the goal, one would be better off at MT.

    2. profile image0
      DigbyAdamsposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      It absolutely is valid. There was a time when a Hubber could make real money here. Not everyone writes online for enjoyment. It is a sad commentary that mTurks probably make more money than Hubbers. Take the time it takes to write a stellar hub and then see how much money that Hub makes in two years. Bet the mTurks are doing better.

      A lot of people make fun of mTurkers and then pilfer their time away for pennies. Hoping that 200 Hubs and two years MIGHT bring something.

  6. WriteAngled profile image73
    WriteAngledposted 10 years ago

    I would think most people that are capable of making money elsewhere do just that and write hubs as a hobby as and when they feel like it. That is certainly my case, hence my grand total of 22 hubs in 3 years.

    At present my HP earnings fund me a bottle of Bollinger once a year or so. I cannot view writing here as a serious occupation.

    1. profile image0
      DigbyAdamsposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      I make quite a bit writing at Wizzley and Squidoo (yes still) and I was hoping to do the same here. However, the traffic just isn't here.

  7. HollieT profile image79
    HollieTposted 10 years ago

    The abysmal rates of pay offered by MTurk have always disgusted me. It's not like they're a small operation with limited capital and tiny profits, they make more than enough profits to pay workers fairly.

  8. relache profile image72
    relacheposted 10 years ago

    One of the parts of the article which I found very intriguing (and somewhat troubling) was how it was said that the service is still in the early adopter phase but that increasingly it's being staffed by people from outside the USA.

    Can we really guarantee that Hubs reviewed using that service are going to be of appropriate quality when the people reviewing them are non-native English speakers based outside the US and the standards those Hubs need to meet are set by native American English speakers and US-based search engines?

    1. Sherry Hewins profile image92
      Sherry Hewinsposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      There is a fairly stringent test you have to take before you work on HubPages hits at MT. The vast majority who take the test do not pass. I took the test, I didn't pass, and there are no second chances.

    2. HollieT profile image79
      HollieTposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      This was a concern initially, if I remember correctly. It does seem rather odd that non-native English speakers might be reviewing hubs when, seemingly, it appears that HP are trying to rid the site poor quality hubs, some of which, are written by non-native English speakers who are simply not fluent enough to produce hubs of reasonable quality. I know this is not the case for all those who write in their second language, but certainly some.

  9. LindaSmith1 profile image62
    LindaSmith1posted 10 years ago

    I believe it is those who list their jobs that set the pay, and pay it out which MTurkers get though Amazon MT program.  The pay is posted, and Turkers can accept or reject any job listing they wish to.  Look at article submission sites that pay through clicks on Adsense which amounts to pennies. They are  no different.  People are needing extra cash and will do what they have to do in order to earn it.  It is just too bad that companies, as well as article submission sites and others where you bid for a job take advantage of it.  There is one way to stop this kind of practice and that is for people not to do the work, publish their articles or bid on jobs.

  10. MelissaBarrett profile image58
    MelissaBarrettposted 10 years ago

    1. I do use MTurk for a significant part of my monthly income. (981.29 last month)
    2. I don't work for under 8 an hour... most of the time much more than that.
    3. I don't work more than 4 or 5 hours a day, 4 or 5 days a week at it.

    There's a learning curve like anything else... and with some requesters it takes time to build up to the higher paying hits. If you are just going in and picking hits randomly, your pay is going to be exceedingly low.

    As far as HP goes, they don't take non-US workers, I think there are maybe 6 of us doing hubs regularly and I know 4 of them are hubbers.  You would likely be surprised which four they are.  There is a test, if you would like to take it to judge how hard it is, have at it.

    I also don't believe HP accepts non-US workers. So the foreign language thing worker thing is a misrepresentation.

    Anyone who's only making a dollar an hour hasn't put in enough research to learn how to use MTurk to their advantage.  The info is out there.

    Now, is it the right gig for everybody? Nope, but I make much more doing it for the hours I spend than I would with an out of house job in my area. Considering no transportation expenses and no childcare expenses etc.  I would say it works for me.

    1. HollieT profile image79
      HollieTposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      If it works for you then should do it. I would only ever argue to raise the rates of pay for workers, that's it.

      1. MelissaBarrett profile image58
        MelissaBarrettposted 10 years agoin reply to this

        There is sort of a movement to do that now.

        There is a system that the serious turkers use to rate the requesters.  The general lowest standard accepted is 6.00 per hour. That's the absolute lowest, and then only for simple or fun hits (and there are some fun hits).

        Anyway, if the pay per hour is under that, the other turkers leave feedback. That feedback is displayed on a script beside the requester's name on the hit page.  If the pay metric is red, no one does those hits. So either the requester raises his pay, or the work doesn't get done... or it gets done by those workers who aren't qualified to do anything else... which generally means poor results.

        I've seen it happen many times where 20,000 hits will just sit there without anyone doing them until they raise their pay rate. Then they get done within hours.

        1. HollieT profile image79
          HollieTposted 10 years agoin reply to this

          Good! Cooperation like this yields results. There are so many chancers who'll pay way below the going rate when those rates are accepted. Sometimes, people have to do what they have to do- we all need to keep the wolves from the door. I suppose though, as the article states, there are those people who are just looking for a little extra, and it's not their main source of income, so they'll take the hits for less. However, they're less likely to stick around, not reliable.

          I'm glad MTurkers have developed this system, in this way they can command a reasonable wage, and the chancers can go take a running jump.

    2. Sherry Hewins profile image92
      Sherry Hewinsposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      MelissaBarrett, I'm so glad you came by to tell about your experience with Mechanical Turk. So many here seem to speak disparagingly of turkers and make assumptions about the quality of their work. Hits can be rejected if the work is not performed up the the standards of the requester, so sloppy or careless work for the sake of speed really does not pay.

  11. Paul Edmondson profile imageSTAFF
    Paul Edmondsonposted 10 years ago

    Relache, to your last post.  We've had to think hard about a lot of the ways people game the system.  We also learned pretty quickly that the app had to do a good job of assessing people's ability to rate.  At the end of the day, the app has to be very robust. 

    Also interesting as the app gets better, our ability to rate things automatically has become significantly better.  I'm pretty confident that ratings will continue to improve.

    1. Jean Bakula profile image92
      Jean Bakulaposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      It does sound worth it for someone like Melissa, because it costs so much to get good childcare if a woman has a job outside the home. As she says, nobody is twisting their arms to do it, and apparently there is some action going on to try to raise the rate. As long as the people speak fluent English, and have enough knowledge to understand punctuation and such, it's really a personal decision. Saying that, I do think the pay should be at least minimum wage. But writing on sites doesn't even guarantee that, only that you work hard for a period and reap the benefits from that work later on. And it depends on the person, their writing skill, and the interest in their work that determines that. As long as the standards of choosing the people who assess our work are tough, I guess I don't have a problem with it then. I'd rather have a real person.


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