This article was prompted by a friend who told me that she’d tried Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) after reading one of my articles. She had done a number of hits but eventually decided that the MTurk payments were way too low and that Amazon MTurk was essentially a form of slave labor.
It is an issue that I’ve wrestled with myself, during my darker moments as an MTurk worker. MTurk requesters effectively sidestep most labor legislation when they use MTurk, meaning that MTurk workers, unlike people working in the “real” world, have virtually no rights. Employers get a good deal out of MTurk potentially, as their overheads are minimal and they can effectively hire and fire at will. Workers, on the other hand, are vulnerable to being ripped off.
Some of the MTurk requesters also offer payment rates that are effectively absurd. Sometimes if you are like me, you look at the hit and think that they are paying you 1 cent for each task, which is already poor money, but then you read on and there are 10 of these tasks per hit. That means that you are being offered 0.1 cent for each task. Even if you can complete two tasks per minute, that’s still an hourly payment rate of just 12 cents!
Okay, I will shut up moaning. But the issue is still a serious one. At the end of the day, I use my MTurk payments to supplement other income that’s coming in and spend the money on essentially frivolous stuff such as nice coffee and audio equipment. I feel concerned about people who are in a dire financial situation and reliant on MTurk to pay for some of their essential, day to day needs.
MTurk is fine in that context, as casual work that supplements other income, but I’d hate to see a world where all work was like MTurk and everyone was forced to scrape a living from day to day with virtually no rights or job security - a kind of weird cross between Victorian England and internet technology. In short, I think that MTurk is great as an online earning option (which can also be fun sometimes!) but not if it’s your only effective choice!