A recurring criticism of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is that it is misused as a virtual sweatshop. In the Salon article titled I Make $1.45 a Week and Love It, it is pointed out that salaries under $600 do not have to be reported to the IRS by companies, but all earnings are supposed to by workers. “What Amazon is trying to do is create the virtual day laborer hiring hall on the global scale to bid down wage rates to the advantage of the employer,” labour activist Marcus Courtney says in the Salon article.

Blaming Amazon is pretty off the mark, as I truly believe the Turk was not founded for malicious business but rather as an academic pet project by CEO Jeff Bezos — consider his investment in human-powered search ChaCha as proof (Artificial Intelligence, With Help From Humans).

However, there’s no denying that there are misuse of the service for cheap labour is quite common. The most despicable example that I have seen in the past few weeks is that of APC’s teleclass transcription. Consider the following screenshot:

An hour’s content transcribed for $2.26?! Ridiculous. Even the most skilled typist would be probably making about a dollar an hour (my qualitative research professor a few years back estimated 4 hours transcription time for every hour of content).

Humourously, the company states on their website that “using the latest transcription equipment, (they) can accurately trascribe your teleclasses or webinar” (emphasis added by me). Sure, the company should not exist —it seems like one of those misguided attempts by lazier people not to get a real job after school, where a person prints some silly business cards and labels themselves “President and CEO”. Yet, this litter is an important thing to acknowledge in assessing micropayment crowdsourcing today, and how to continue it in the future.

The next ‘Cons of the Turk’ will look at Internet spam.

One last side note in defining “crowdsourcing”. Though its root word of ‘outsourcing’ often implies the transfer of work to cheaper employees, this is not a quality implicit in ‘crowdsourcing’. Rather, what it inherits from its root is the sense of displacing a traditional job, in this case by creating a crowd-modeled alternative meant to improve on it. Hopefully that clears up some confusion.

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