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I found work on an Amazon website and earned 97 cents an hour


A report from the depths of the strange, wild and low-wage world of Mechanical Turk, Amazon's repetitive jobs service Credit: Shutterstock

The computer showed me a picture of what appeared to be a school board meeting.

My job is to rate the image on a scale of one to five according to 23 different qualities: "patriotic," "elitist," "comforting," and so on.

I did the same with the photograph of a woman wearing headphones – I put four in the category of "competent" and one in "threatening" – and also with an image of five smiling women flanking a smiling man who wears a blue jacket

I sent my answers. I looked at my watch. It had been three minutes.

He had just earned another five cents in a digital labor market called Mechanical Turk, run by
        
Amazon
        
 . Or at least that had creed. Weeks later, I'm not sure yet.

There are many ways to earn some money in this world. And Amazon Mechanical Turk – which has prospered, at different levels, since 2005 in an unknown corner of the empire of this international colossus – offers an uncertain, mysterious and often unsettling way to earn very little money.

In Mechanical Turk – which is named after a "machine" of the eighteenth century to play chess in which a human expert was hiding-
hundreds of thousands of people earn pennies or dollars by performing tasks that computers cannot easily do.

It works like this: employers, known as applicants, publish many Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) on the Mechanical Turk website. A task could be to transcribe a receipt, participate in a study or label photographs to train a program of
        
artificial intelligence
        
 (sometimes disturbing images are shown, such as decapitation).

Freelancers, informally known as turkers, rush to accept the tasks and perform them, and provide what Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once defined as
"artificial artificial intelligence".

With most of these activities you pay ten cents or less, and there are a number of daily tasks with which you only earn a penny.

And the strange thing is that workers – most Americans – do them for many different reasons.

People become turkers with the idea of ​​saving to buy a motorcycle. They also do it to buy insulin, to pay off their debts or to make money while killing time in a boring job.

Some do it because there are few jobs with decent salaries that can be done at will. People who are locked in their home due to a disability or a social anxiety problem or who live where there are few jobs do so because, despite the low salaries, it seems to be the best option.

Many do it full time. According to one
The Pew Research Center's 2016 survey of nearly 3,000 American turkers, a quarter said they get most or all of their income through the platform and more than half of them said they earned less than five dollars an hour.

Strive to earn pennies

Although, in theory, it seems that little is earned with this work, in practice often less is earned because MTurk, as it is known, is a poorly made and deficient platform in which everyone can participate.

The turkers have a hard time fighting with the solicitors either because of an unfair rejection of ten cents or a missing payment of 60 cents. They waste minutes answering defective forms that cannot be sent. They leave "ten minutes" questionnaires after half an hour.

They exchange horror stories and warnings in the message forums of turkers ("they rejected me a task of 0.50 dollars",
say a recent message, "the reason is that no funds were allocated"). They leave biting reviews on
Turkopticon, the site run by turkers ("unfair and uncontrolled use of the rejection button").

Knowing how much the turkers win is an important topic of academic debate,
But an article published last year analyzed millions of tasks performed by thousands of them. Although they probably overrepresented novice turkers like me, who perform the tasks with which less money is earned, the authors of the article concluded that, if you count the time you spent looking for tasks and working on activities for which you were not paid, the salary per hour of the average turker was $ 1.77.

According to the researchers, only four percent of the turkers earned more than the federal minimum wage in the United States: $ 7.25 an hour.

The world's largest technology company chairs this imprecise system. Amazon generally refuses to get involved when the turkers say the applicants scam them, although the company allows the applicants to hide behind aliases, so it is impossible to track them.

The company has ignored the turkers' demands that demand higher salaries, even if it keeps a percentage of each transaction
that goes from 17 to 50 percent; A solicitor who posts a penny homework pays a penny to the turker and another to Amazon.

Amazon even finds ways to cut some of the cents earned by the turkers, a reminder of the days when miners were paid with vouchers that can only be redeemed at the company's store. Although American turkers can deposit their salaries directly, thousands of turkers working abroad have only one way to get paid without facing third-party charges: through an Amazon gift card.

Although Amazon pays all its American employees
at least fifteen dollars an hour and is in favor of raising the minimum wage, refusing to comment on the payment policy of the turkers or on any subject related to Mechanical Turk. Minimum wage laws generally do not apply to piecework like this.

Now Mechanical Turk is one of the big companies in the sector known as "work in crowds" or "microtwork" (a company working in crowds, Prolific, used by academic researchers, set a minimum wage:
$ 6.50 per hour).

Advocates of multitude work see a bright future, a labor market without borders or bosses in which the creators and task makers meet at the intersection of supply and demand. But its detractors see the return to a more disadvantaged work scenario, where lack of regulation and accountability keeps workers under the shadows and on the defensive.

Mechanical Turk, specifically, combines the inconsistency and precariousness of temporary jobs with the tendency of large technology companies to evade responsibility for the terrible things that occur on their platforms.

"This is a great microcosm of what happens when there is no regulation and wages fall to the bottom," said Kristy Milland, a former turker who became a labor activist and also one of the authors of the article that analyzed the earnings of The turkers

An infernal or ideal job?

I was at the lowest level of the hierarchy when I completed my brief period as a turker.

I tagged blurry photographs that looked like exits from a workers' surveillance system at work sites sorting them according to whether they wore helmets or harnesses (a penny per photo).

I helped train a virtual paralegal system by describing a hypothetical injury claim ("I suffered serious injuries because a defect in my lawnmower caused it to turn on") but I didn't earn anything because the "send" box never appeared.

They play the role of an "active investor" and called "very likely" the possibility of supporting a Kickstarter project that proposes to manufacture a device that makes nut milk.

Over several weeks in September, I completed 221 tasks in just over eight hours of work and earned a total of $ 7.83. That results in 97 cents an hour.

However, hourly wages are not everything. Jane Lamont, a 30-year-old worker at a call center in Louisville, quit her second job of $ 7.25 an hour at McDonald's to become a turker.

He works from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, five or six hours a day on weekends and usually earns five dollars a day.

Although the salary is "very low," he says, he prefers to work in a fast food establishment because of the freedom he offers: the freedom of not having to wear a uniform, the freedom to spend time at home with his mother. , the freedom to watch videos between tasks.

Katie Boehm of Pittsburgh started working as a turker in 2017 after her husband with diabetes lost his job and insurance coverage. His own health problems prevented him from working outside the house and being a turker seemed an option that allowed him to continue his life.

Boehm performs the tasks at least 50 hours per week, sets the goal of earning a minimum of $ 20 a day and usually earns between $ 30 and $ 50.

Her husband's insulin costs $ 1500 a month. "MTurk covers about half of what it needs to survive," says Boehm, 40. "Damn insulin."

A good salary?

Amazon says that the workforce of the turkers is half a million people, but, according to independent researchers, the number of active turkers is smaller. According to Panos Ipeirotis, a data scientist from the University of New York who
Study Mechanical Turk, there are between 100,000 and 200,000 turkers, and at all times there are thousands of people doing homework. It is believed that the vast majority of turkers are in the United States – at least three quarters, according to researchers – and India, in a far second.

Mechanical Turk was created to solve an internal problem. In 2001, when Amazon sought to eradicate duplicate product pages,
I applied for a patent for "a hybrid arrangement of computing between machines and humans, which has the advantage of involving humans to help a computer solve particular tasks."

The name is a tribute to a gadget that
make a Hungarian nobleman: a bearded mannequin with a turban that dazzles Europe with his mastery of chess. Actually, the movements were executed by a human with a magnet located under the board.

Mechanical Turk was launched in 2005 with great fanfare. "Market forces will define how effective it is for applicants and how lucrative it is for workers",
said Peter Cohen, an Amazon executive at the time.

Many major companies have used Mechanical Turk. The New York Times Company used turkers in at least three data projects.

MTurk also has great fans in the social sciences. Each year, more than 50,000 academic studies are carried out through MTurk, according to Leib Litman, one of the founders of CloudResearch, a company that helps researchers using the platform.

Working as turkers is not always badly paid. The most competent turkers earn more than 12 dollars an hour, using free scripts and tools such as HIT Catcher and HIT Forker to beat other turker colleagues in order to get the best tasks and accumulate special qualifications that open the door to more salaries high.

Litman said that, in reality, a small squad of superturkers makes most of the tasks at MTurk and estimated that the average salary of the turkers participating in the studies led by CloudResearch is $ 6.50 per hour.

The best tricks of the 'turkers'

Amber Smoot is a good turker. He sits on the porch of his future political family's house in Middleburg, Florida, and has HIT Forker open in the background while watching his dogs play.

When the sequence finds a task that pays a dollar or more, your computer alerts you with an operative rock fragment to take the HIT and set it aside until you accumulate a few. "I line them up and make them a jaln."

Smoot, 32, doesn't depend on MTurk to survive, but he knows that many people do. Spend a lot of time on message boards that offer advice to beginners.

"I love MTurk and the opportunities it gives people: it's great for what it is, an additional income," he said. "But in the current situation in the United States, the problem is that people are turning to a job with which they should not seek to make a living."

Lack of responsibility

Milland, the turker activist, said that the main problem at MTurk was that applicants could refuse to pay the turkers by "rejecting" their deliveries, but still keep the job. "I know an applicant who confesses that they automatically reject ten percent of the jobs to pay Amazon fees," he said.

Turkers have few resources to deal with cheating applicants.

Often, they don't know who they're working for. Many applicants operate with generic names that are impossible to track as "Events", "Panel", "David" or "Josh".

The task in which I qualified the patriotic quotients of the photographs was published by a group called Vision. Califiqu eight series for Visin. At five cents per series, you should have earned 40 cents. However, Vision paid me fifteen cents.

I clicked "Contact the applicant" and asked Vision to email me twice. They never answered me.

What could he do? According to
Mechanical Turk help page, it wasn't Amazon's problem. "If you have questions about the instructions at a particular HIT, how to fill out a HIT or why your HIT was rejected, contact the applicant," says the page. "Please note that applicants determine when your HITs are approved."

A disturbing parade

Another occupational risk involved in working as a turker is HITs that contain graphic images. A few years ago, Milland worked describing photos circulated by the Islamic State.

"You have to digest the content of the image so you can come up with the keywords," he wrote in an email. "Terms like 'orange uniform', 'caged prisoner', 'prisoner on fire', 'kneeling with explosives', 'basket full of heads'."

The job paid ten cents per photo.

A few months ago, a turker who uses the name sprinkles123 on the screen made a HIT for a legal services company that uses turkers as trial jurors. The case involved the victim in a car accident with multiple amputations and severe burns.

"The case had many photos," commented Sprinkles123 in a direct message. "I still think about that and I would like to have never opened it." That type of HIT is rare and is usually accompanied by warnings, and a turker always has the option of not completing a HIT, but the turkers usually finish what they start.

Professor Ipeirotis of the University of New York stated that his research indicated that Amazon itself was one of the largest applicants and published tasks under many different pseudnimos. Amazon refused to say if it published tasks in Mechanical Turk.

On the 200 billion dollar scale in operations Amazon has, Mechanical Turk is a tiny business. However, Ipeirotis believes that more than one hundred million dollars were generated per year in Mechanical Turk, where Amazon takes tens of millions of dollars.

The 'garbage island'

The last task I did at Mechanical Turk was to see paintings and give ten descriptions for each one: "portrait", "woman", "long hair", "arcade". The job paid a penny for paint.

The applicant was an Austrian company that sells artistic prints,
Meisterdrucke, and publishes tens of thousands of works of art. I told the director of Meisterdrucke's operations, Georg Petritsch, that it had taken me nine minutes and fifteen seconds to do ten of his HITs, for a rate of 65 cents an hour, and asked him what it felt like to pay people so little.

"It would lie if I said that we think it's fair," he wrote. "But just yesterday I saw a documentary about the 'garbage island' in the Maldives, where people work among garbage that burns and puts their health and life at risk for $ 200 a month. I guess this platform is precisely for that".

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(tagsToTranslate) I found work on an Amazon website and earned 97 cents an hour – LA NACION

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