Newsletter 8

Tech Workers Coalition unites with Turkopticon in launching our first ever fundraiser to establish Turkopticon’s own server and build solidarity among Turkers. We have been reaching out to Tech workers to explain that Mturk work is actually powering most technologies of the world. In doing so, we are bringing attention to the same issues that seem to have haunted us for ten years: MASS REJECTIONS AND ACCOUNT SUSPENSIONS! We are working to build a relationship where all Turkers can come to the table and be included. If you want to help in any way please contact us at volunteercoms@turkopticon.net.

You can read more at: https://news.techworkerscoalition.org/2021/03/09/issue-5/.

Our Fundraising campaign is here : https://blog.turkopticon.info/?page_id=758

A new requester mass rejected

A situation arose a few weeks ago where a new requester mass rejected a group of surveys. (Their current approval rate at the time of writing this is 21%) From the information we gathered, the hit was set up in a very confusing manner – specifically use of double negatives and inconsistent column labels.The requester received so many complaints they stopped responding to each one, forcing people to contact the school’s IRB. Some of the workers did get a response though stating “Please stop contacting me. I have reported your threats and conduct to Amazon for further investigation.”Unfortunately, this was true. The requester sent us multiple emails as well, informing us that he had contacted Amazon to report “offensive and abusive language or overt threats” from workers. We do not know what type of language was used or actual threats he received from workers, but based off the complaints workers made to us, we think many of those reported may have been as simple as letting the requester know their IRB was being contacted.The reason I write is just a reminder to be professional in communication with requesters. When leaving reviews, please be respectful, even if they may not deserve it. Don’t call them derogatory names, don’t contact people outside of their work (for example, don’t find their spouse’s email and start contacting them). Don’t send emails with threatening language, derogatory comments, etc. Don’t give them anything to use against you if you unfortunately run across a requester like this. Please continue to report these requesters on Turkopticon, Turkerview, FB, any avenue to warn others about them.As a turker myself, I am appalled that a requester took this step and consider what they did completely out of line. Requester intimidation is never okay and if you run across this, please reach out to us. No accounts were suspended due to this requester.

TWC and TW4TW

Tech Workers Coalition, or TWC, is a non-hierarchical, international collective of programmers, bug testers, and service workers in the technology fields.  In other words, a bunch of nerds worldwide who want to make the world a more equal, better place.  There are chapters from San Diego to Berlin to Bangalore, all taking up their own interests and sharing notes on how to push back against tech that infringes on our civil rights and liberties.  The work can range from more traditional workplace organizing to work on local politics to restrict and push back against surveillance.  The key is that technology should improve life for everyone, and it incorporates anyone who works in tech but isn’t a manager or boss– janitors, rideshare drivers, and programmers collaborate in TWC and drive its work. It is vitally important that all tech workers engage and collaborate with one-another.  It is our work and labor that keeps the company moving.  Whether you code the product, test for bugs, identify the images for a Machine Learning set, clean the office, or make the food to keep the nerds continuously typing, all our labor moves the machine.  The CEOs and Venture Capitalists receive the press coverage for flashy breakthroughs, but let’s be real: Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos aren’t geniuses designing every widget in their companies.  It’s the workers that create the fortunes. Despite these soaring profits, the average worker has more precarity and less recourse in their workplace.  Companies have been skirting labor law by designating delivery drivers as “independent contractors” for years, and after the success of Prop 22 in California literally overturned state law, they’re seeking to expand this model globally.  Warehouse careers that could support a decent standard of living are being swallowed by Amazon logistics.  And more programming and web-design is being transferred to an overworked, ad-hoc labor system with an eye for automation: MIT is studying computer-directed coding right now for a reason: being a programmer in 2020 is similar to being a machinist in 1973.  It’s a good job in danger of automation and dispossession. The purpose of Tech Workers for Tech Workers, #TW4TW, is to harness our collective power and create a better world, together.  The Turkopticon project is a perfect example of this model– MTurk workers understand their workplace, their challenges, and what constitutes a win for their cause.  Web developers, academics, and fundraisers can lend a hand and actively collaborate with them (not in a patronizing fashion for them), and together build a platform that can grow over time and adapt to shifting issues in the MTurk system.  Giving what you can, whether it’s cash or code or on-the-ground knowledge of your workplace, and we can build infrastructure that makes us less isolated, more powerful, and wins improvements in our workplaces. Building a new future together will require fighting economic inequality and climate disaster.  It will require massive restructuring of the way we live and work to compensate for the rising tides, droughts, and new diseases which will continue to emerge from the current system.  It requires us to acknowledge that we each have unique talent and dignity to bring to this work.  And to fight, together, and win.

Written by Jacob (Tech Worker) 

Turkopticon is looking for suggestions!

Do you have suggestions for how to make Turkopticon better and wish to share them? Please email volunteercoms@turkopticon.net and someone will contact you to further discuss your suggestions. We want to hear from everyone so don’t be afraid to contact us. We can work together to make Mturk better for everyone.

Join Us on Facebook! 

The Turkopticon community is growing!  Our Facebook page went live on Thursday, June 4th and we would love for you to join us. Participate in the conversations, learn about upcoming projects, and stay up to date on the latest news by giving us a “like.” You can find the page by searching for Turkopticon or visiting www.facebook.com/Turkopticon/


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Newsletter 7

As we head into the last few weeks of 2020, we’ll likely start seeing the amount of work on Mechanical Turk decrease temporarily. Universities will break for the semester and many businesses will take time off for the holidays. We hope you will enjoy this down time with your families and take a much needed break. 2020 has been a year for the books. Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from all of us at Turkopticon.

Happy Holidays Turkopticon members! I hope everyone is fairing well with all the things going on in the world today. TO sure has made a lot of progress over the past year! I know some look at the website and say, “Yeah, not really that much.” We have, however, now transitioned from just a review site to a non-profit organization dedicated to making Turk work better for us all. With that, I thought I would highlight some of the things we have accomplished this past year.

Today, we have helped over 25 Turkers get their accounts reinstated. That’s 25 people who now have access to a way of earning money in these trying times. We are actively working with requesters to develop apps and other tools that can help Turkers use their time better and not look for work. One of the other projects we are working on is communicating with Amazon about bad requesters and ways to improve the website to make Turk better for us all. We are also updating our coding and website, so you will be able to see and enjoy those changes this coming year!

Behind the scenes, we’ve built a software team that has been updating our code to make it easier to maintain, diagnose, fix, and improve. We hope you’re seeing more system stability now. Programmers from Tech Workers Coalition believe in our cause and support keeping Turkopticon free and making work better for everyone.

SO, this is my question to you: : Do you want to be part of all the great things happening at TO? If so, please reach out and let’s chat. My email is volunteercoms@turkopticon.net. I am excited to see what the new year will bring and look forward to having more people come on board to see what other wonderful things we can accomplish together!

Remember, if you want to donate to a non-profit this season, please consider us! Donate here https://blog.turkopticon.info/?page_id=474. Your donations are tax-deductible!

We hope everyone has a safe holiday season!

A really big Thank you

We would like to thank everyone who has helped us with a donation Rebecca BurWei, Ananth S, Jacob Van Dehy, Christopher Potts, Brendan O’Connor, Maxine Eskenazi, Danielle Dean, Alex Hanna, Emily Witt, Mary Smart, Luming Hao, Meg Adamik, Sean Kross, Ev Henke and Numerous Anonymous donations.

See the bottom of the newsletter for how you can submit short articles.

Mass rejections

First, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Sherry, lead organizer for Turkopticon. I have been a Turker for going on 6 years. You may ask why did I finally decide to step up and work to make Turk better? Two words: MASS REJECTION. My personal story involves having a great history of finding good new requesters and having plenty of wiggle room in my approval rating so I decided to work for a new requester in the same hopes of finding good work. That is when my Mturk experience drastically changed and I knew I had to stand up.

The hits were simple: look up a website then copy and paste some information (or so I thought). I did approximately 80 hits before I thought I should stop until some of these approve. I went on turking like normal, doing a few surveys and then went to check my dashboard. I was speechless when I saw the screen: 80+ rejections. I had never had this experience before and I instantly contacted the requester. I then went to the Turkopticon website and there it was: Numerous workers receiving the same treatment. No response from the requester. I emailed Amazon and didn’t get a response from them either. That’s when I realized we, as Turkers, have no option but to just take it when a requester wants to scam the system and not pay workers. Amazon takes no responsibility in protecting us. We’re basically on our own. I knew when Turkopticon reached out and asked for help that I could no longer stay hidden and I had to speak up!

Now, I’m asking you. What’s your experience with mass rejections and how have you handled them? Which requesters are guilty? Has Amazon helped resolve them in any way? Please send your stories to us at https://blog.turkopticon.info/?page_id=727 so we can work together to fix mass rejections and make Turk better for us all.

Turkopticon is looking for suggestions!

Do you have suggestions for how to make Turkopticon better and wish to share them? Please email volunteercoms@turkopticon.net and someone will contact you to further discuss your suggestions. We want to hear from everyone so don’t be afraid to contact us. We can work together to make Mturk better for everyone.

Join Us on Facebook! 

The Turkopticon community is growing!  Our Facebook page went live on Thursday, June 4th and we would love for you to join us. Participate in the conversations, learn about upcoming projects, and stay up to date on the latest news by giving us a “like.” You can find the page by searching for Turkopticon or visiting www.facebook.com/Turkopticon/

Newsletter 6

Our  November 2020 newsletter. We will be sending a newsletter out once a month to keep you up to date on what is going on at Turkopticon. You can see our previous newsletters on our blog here

We are now helping with taking on suspended accounts and trying to get them reinstated if they were suspended in error. So far we have managed to get 27 accounts reinstated. We are talking with requesters to improve conditions and passing suggestions from both requesters and turkers on to Amazon to help improve our turk work.

We Need Your Help!

Help us decide on what issues we  should be working on. We would like to hear the issues you are facing with Mturk.  Could you please help us by taking the time to fill out our survey?  Turkopticon Issue Survey

We have added a donate page to our website, blog and newsletter. We are in no way saying you have to donate but we are asking that if you want the service remain free and you are able: please donate. We also plan to look for and locate other funding but your donations will be important too!  Please help us remain free so we can work to make Turk better for all of us!

See the bottom of the newsletter for how you can submit short articles.

New Pay Process for International workers.

Beginning on 27th October, international workers in countries listed by Amazon are able to be paid into a US bank account. Before it seemed to be a random process of who could get paid and who would receive gift cards.

This change is a great improvement. Everyone was able to choose their payment frequency – 3, 7, 14, or 30 days – rather than waiting until reaching the $20 minimum to withdraw funds. We would like to know if the new payment system has gone smoothly for everyone or if anyone is having problems so we would appreciate your feedback! It might be worth it to check out Transferwise as well of Hyperwallet because their fees are much lees and they use much better exchange rates.

Turkopticon is looking for suggestions!

Do you have suggestions for how to make Turkopticon better and wish to share them? Please email volunteercoms@turkopticon.net and someone will contact you to further discuss your suggestions. We want to hear from everyone so don’t be afraid to contact us. We can work together to make Mturk better for everyone.

My Mturk Story, Part 1,

It was five years ago that I discovered Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT.)  A chaotic set of events led me to find it and as I’ve become part of the turker community I have learned that everyone has a story. This is mine.

When I was 30 years old I decided to go back to school and make a career change. I had previously worked in politics and enrolled at a university to pursue my degree in geology. At the time I was living off of a part-time job and student loans. I lived in a studio apartment for my first two years and then moved into a small house. Times were lean but I always made it. 

I had not been feeling “right” for many years and was written off by doctors as being anxious. I kept plugging along the best I could. I figured the doctors must be correct. After all, I was what they called a “non-traditional college student” which, in my case, simply meant old.

In 2015 I began to have a lot of health problems. I couldn’t walk more than a few feet without being totally out of breath with a high heart rate. I felt dizzy when I had to stand for more than a minute. I was losing weight and at times I resembled a walking skeleton. My resting heart rates starting climbing. It became common to have heart rates between 150-190bpm. My joints started dislocating from simple movements. I was weak, scared, and felt physically ill all the time. The emergency room became a second home to me. I was getting so close to finishing my degree. By the time my field work requirements came up, no doctor would clear me to go. Just like that I was forced to stop my schooling and my job.

I suddenly found myself sick and struggling to pay bills. My nearest family member was a six-hour drive away. I couldn’t find a traditional job in which I would be accommodated in the ways I needed. My town was small and there weren’t a lot of options. I became unable to drive and I started doing research about work-from-home opportunities.  That is how I stumbled upon AMT. I applied with hopes that this would be the answer to my troubles.

It was here that I found that there were so many people with stories like mine. I don’t think that Amazon, or anyone for that matter, realizes how many people use this platform because of illness and/or disability. While flexibility is often decided between employee and employer, not all of us have had luck finding that in the job market. AMT allows for the flexibility that many of us need and I am thankful for that.

While AMT sounds like a great solution to a problem many people face, there are downsides to having health issues and doing this work. There are areas that both Amazon and individual requesters could improve upon and I will touch on those in part two of this article which will be published in the next newsletter. I plan on talking about the number of hours it takes to pay the bills, requesters paying low wages for your most traumatic experiences, and the toll turking takes on the body. 

In the meantime, I would love to hear YOUR story. Please feel free to send them in via our Facebook page or to newsletter@turkopticon.net. We might contact you for permission to use part of your story for the newsletter in the future!

-K, Turkopticon

Join Us on Facebook! 

The Turkopticon community is growing!  Our Facebook page went live on Thursday, June 4th and we would love for you to join us. Participate in the conversations, learn about upcoming projects, and stay up to date on the latest news by giving us a “like.” You can find the page by searching for Turkopticon or visiting https://www.facebook.com/Turkopticon/.

TWC and TW4TW

Tech Workers Coalition, or TWC, is a non-hierarchical, international collective of programmers, bug testers, and service workers in the technology fields.  In other words, a bunch of nerds worldwide who want to make the world a more equal, better place.  There are chapters from San Diego to Berlin to Bangalore, all taking up their own interests and sharing notes on how to push back against tech that infringes on our civil rights and liberties.  The work can range from more traditional workplace organizing to work on local politics to restrict and push back against surveillance.  The key is that technology should improve life for everyone, and it incorporates anyone who works in tech but isn’t a manager or boss– janitors, rideshare drivers, and programmers collaborate in TWC and drive its work.

It is vitally important that all tech workers engage and collaborate with one-another.  It is our work and labor that keeps the company moving.  Whether you code the product, test for bugs, identify the images for a Machine Learning set, clean the office, or make the food to keep the nerds continuously typing, all our labor moves the machine.  The CEOs and Venture Capitalists receive the press coverage for flashy breakthroughs, but let’s be real: Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos aren’t geniuses designing every widget in their companies.  It’s the workers that create the fortunes.

Despite these soaring profits, the average worker has more precarity and less recourse in their workplace.  Companies have been skirting labor law by designating delivery drivers as “independent contractors” for years, and after the success of Prop 22 in California literally overturned state law, they’re seeking to expand this model globally.  Warehouse careers that could support a decent standard of living are being swallowed by Amazon logistics.  And more programming and web-design is being transferred to an overworked, ad-hoc labor system with an eye for automation: MIT is studying computer-directed coding right now for a reason: being a programmer in 2020 is similar to being a machinist in 1973.  It’s a good job in danger of automation and dispossession.

The purpose of Tech Workers for Tech Workers, #TW4TW, is to harness our collective power and create a better world, together.  The Turkopticon project is a perfect example of this model– MTurk workers understand their workplace, their challenges, and what constitutes a win for their cause.  Web developers, academics, and fundraisers can lend a hand and actively collaborate with them (not in a patronizing fashion for them), and together build a platform that can grow over time and adapt to shifting issues in the MTurk system.  Giving what you can, whether it’s cash or code or on-the-ground knowledge of your workplace, and we can build infrastructure that makes us less isolated, more powerful, and wins improvements in our workplaces.

Building a new future together will require fighting economic inequality and climate disaster.  It will require massive restructuring of the way we live and work to compensate for the rising tides, droughts, and new diseases which will continue to emerge from the current system.  It requires us to acknowledge that we each have unique talent and dignity to bring to this work.  And to fight, together, and win.

Written by Jacob (Tech Worker)

Press Release

For Immediate Release:
March 10, 2021

Contact
Courtney Holsworth, cholsworth@rabengroup.com, (989) 572-8162

Amazon Mechanical Turk Workers Launch Effort To Push Back Against Exploitative Labor Practices Through Turkopticon Platform

Today, Amazon Mechanical Turk workers are launching a fundraising campaign to support Turkopticon, a nonprofit crowdsourcing platform for turk workers to share information about exploitative practices and fight for stable, dignified working conditions. 

Workers from around the world log on to Amazon Mechanical Turk each day to perform work ranging from completing surveys to testing software prototypes. But a lot of this work consists of labeling and cleaning data for the Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning sector. This is repetitive work, without which machine learning would not function. The AI/ML industry is a billion-dollar industry that is built on the labor of these turk workers, yet they have very little labor protections or access to unionize. 

Turk workers are raising awareness about long standing issues within the industry, including: 

  • Mass Rejections: Requesters can “reject” work that is submitted if it doesn’t meet their standards. Workers don’t get paid if their work is rejected, even if they’ve completed a large amount of the work, and a lot of times aren’t provided an explanation for why the work was rejected and have no option for recourse. Amazon has not been responsive to investigate these claims of fraud from MTurk Workers.
  • Account Suspensions: Worker accounts getting terminated or suspended without notice or official avenues for challenging the suspension or even knowing what prompted the termination or suspension in the first place. 
  • Low Wages: Workers aren’t compensated for the time they spend looking for jobs but workers have created tools to help, and requesters are setting the price of projects at extremely low rates in some cases. 

“Turking is one of the few job opportunities I have in West Virginia, and like many other turk workers, we pride ourselves on our work,” said Sherry Stanley, MTurkWorker for six years and lead organizer of Turkopticon. “However, we are at the whim of Amazon. As one of the largest companies in the world, Amazon relies on workers like me staying silent about the conditions of our work. We live in constant fear of retaliation for speaking out about the ways we’re being treated. But turk workers deserve greater transparency around the who, what, why and where of our work: why our work is rejected, what our work is building, why accounts are suspended, where does our data go when it’s not paid and who we are working for. Turkopticon is the one tool that Turkers have evolved into an organization to engage with each other about the conditions of our work and to make it better.” 

“While decades of progress in machine learning research have produced impressive successes, these results would not be possible without crowdsourced annotations,” said Zach Wood Doughty, a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University.  “If future ML systems are to be effective and trustworthy in real-world applications like healthcare, they will require millions of new labels created by annotators over thousands of hours. It is both unjust and unsustainable to treat the workers who produce these annotations as expendable when they are in fact integral to the functioning of machine learning research. We cannot expect our ML research to equitably benefit those inside and outside of the tech industry if we undervalue the contributions of so many workers on which it depends.” 

“Different forms of skilled labor have been valued and devalued throughout history, said Jacob Van Dehy, Biomedical Engineer. “A developer today has a lot in common with a machinist in 1978 both in terms of high earnings and high automation potential (MIT isn’t researching AI-driven code for fun). The best way to avoid future workplace precarity, personally, is to organize and fight for the rights of all workers. We have an urgent need to create jobs where every worker can earn a living wage while having dignity and input respected, regardless of the so-called ‘skill level.’ Fighting alongside MTurk workers with Turkopticon allows us to organize and begin building that world.” 

Turkopticon is a worker-run non-profit organization whose mission is to organize mutual aid, resources, and advocacy to make Amazon Mechanical Turk work a good job. They operate in solidarity with tech workers from Tech Workers Coalition who help operate servers and organize for better conditions within the tech industry. The fundraising campaign will help Turkopticon establish their own worker-operated server, it will also support paying Turk workers themselves to take time off work for one-on-one conversations to build solidarity among Turkers. Turkopticon has successfully reinstated accounts that have been terminated by Amazon, is one of the only lines of communication that Turk workers have used successfully to reach Amazon, and helped Turk workers connect with each other to identify common grievances and exploitative practices they encounter. 

Amazon takes no responsibility in protecting turk workers, who are classified as independent contractors and not afforded employee benefits or protections. In 2019, the Cloud Research Network estimated that there are more than 300,000 workers who have completed at least one batch of work on Amazon Mechanical Turk, and that number is expected to grow throughout 2020 and 2021 as in-person employment closes and people turn to new avenues of employment.

Tech Workers in Solidarity with Turkers: Living in the Hidden Realm of AI

Tech workers in other parts of the industry care are in solidarity with Turkers. Over the last years, our software team has grown with several engineers from Tech Workers Coalition. Tech Workers Coalition exists to build worker power in the tech industry. This week, they published a story by lead organizer Sherry Stanley in their newsletter. Read the cross-posted story below or read the story over at Tech Workers Coalition’s Newsletter! And, as always, email volunteercoms@turkopticon.net to help strengthen our movement.

Today we have allied perspectives from workers in AI. Sherry Stanley, a Turker who lives in rural West Virginia, talks about worker-led organizing against poor treatment by Amazon Mechanical Turk and requesters who post tasks. She and other Turker-Organizers contribute labor essential to building machine learning systems, but don’t get rewards or credit. They ask fellow tech workers and AI researchers to support their campaigns and infrasturucture with recurring donations to Turkopticon, the forum they run. We have a statement by organized Google workers in solidarity with Google’s Ethical AI team co-leads, Dr. Margaret Mitchell and Dr. Timnit Gebru. It includes calls to protect workers and support them by “walking out” on sponsorships and funding until we see real change for everyone working in tech and AI.

The Worker’s Perspective

By Sherry Stanley

If you do anything with machine learning, your company or university probably hires workers like me to clean, organize, or make data to train algorithms. I live in West Virginia on a farm with chickens, and I help build tech by completing tasks posted by “requesters” on Amazon Mechanical Turk. But Turkers know what we need from Amazon, and we’re organizing to get it.

I know that the AI industry is worth trillions of dollars, producing “scientific innovation” off of our backs, without giving us fair pay or any credit for our work. And I am one of tens of thousands of workers who depend on Amazon Mechanical Turk to make a living. Some do this work as a side job to make ends meet, or to buy Christmas gifts, go to a nice dinner, just have some luxury. The reason I did it though was I had no other choice at the time. You may think everyone has a choice; I didn’t. Around six years ago I didn’t have any form of transportation and living in rural West Virginia in the downturn of coal mining was not the prime market to get a job. I was stuck home with a computer and no way really to pay the bills I had. Then a friend suggested Mturk, and away I went.

Learning to Turk was the hardest job training I have ever endured because there is no training except Google searching and hoping you find the right task to make money. The work consists of a series of repetitive tasks and includes everything from data labeling, image classification, and social science surveys. I can remember some days of working on nothing but recording my voice saying “Hey Google” with various other instructions knowing I was training something to recognize my West Virginia twang. Other days, some of the tasks would be explaining how pictures make me feel for hours or rate how toxic a tweet was. One thing I can honestly say is the work is definitely varying and more than likely has been included in your life one way or the other. In the beginning, MTurk was wonderful and I basked in the glory of being able to finally support my children. Then I started realizing I was working more and more hours and my life was becoming consumed with Turk. I set alarms that if I caught high paying work I would wake up in the middle of a dead sleep because I needed the money.

 

Turkers deal with the worst treatment on the platform. But it wasn’t until I received my first mass rejection that I thought this ain’t such a good thing after all. Requesters are our employers on the platform. They post “Human Intelligence Tasks” (HITs), and one requester simply mass-rejected over 80 tasks I completed without a reason and obviously without paying me. I knew I had done my job, but I had no recourse. Requesters can take our work without paying for it, and Amazon doesn’t do anything about it. I know one Turker even had a requester find her real name and then threaten to send local authorities after her for harassment because she had contacted their IRB and had left them bad reviews. It’s sad that requesters can use our own reviews against us and threaten to have our accounts shutdown, all just because we try to have places we can organize and protect each other. But the bigger problems are the bigger players.

Two infamous requesters are Chris Callison Burch at UPenn and Jeffrey Bigham at CMU. They’ve received grants worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to “help Turkers,” but then they used that money to put HITs with terrible pay! And when TO asked them for donations and support, they ignored me and made me feel like they were saying, “Nah. But we’ll go to the NSF and say we’ll get more money to help.” They’re getting famous making scientific breakthroughs by breaking our backs.

Requesters almost never communicate with us when we have questions or concerns. But don’t worry, Amazon doesn’t communicate with us either. We send them messages that go into a black hole. We also get stonewalled by Amazon all of the time – “our internal privacy policy restricts us from sharing this information.” Every time I see that I want to cuss these people all to pieces! But some of us really need Turking and are afraid to lose out on the work by speaking up, even mentioning “Amazon” online, because we can be let go for everything. We don’t even know why people get axed – Amazon gives us no reason. It can be a tweet, a Reddit post, and so on. I know Amazon monitors Reddit because they’ve told Turkers to take down certain posts.

So although Amazon and requesters like Chris and Jeffrey don’t respond, we’re trying to fix that by reviewing and rating requesters. We use Turkopticon, which is like Yelp! for us to express our frustrations, meet each other, and organize. 10 years ago, Lilly Irani and Six Silberman started Turkopticon as a student project, and developed it into a site where Turkers could finally have a place to vent and share information. We use it to post reviews, to find requesters who are mass rejectors, and reach out and ask them why they’re doing it. And because we are now organized, Turkopticon workers are able to get some response from Amazon.

I don’t want to kill the MTurk platform because so many people depend on it for work. It’s just that Amazon is so sensitive – worse than my teenage kids, they give me better answers!

Without Turkopticon we wouldn’t have an open line to Amazon. We reinstated our first wrongfully-suspended Turker, a worker in India. But we still have the mass rejections with no reason given, suspensions, and other privacy policy mysteries. There’s a lot to work on, but we are organizing and working on it.

It’s so hard to have any connections in the Turk World. People don’t understand that even though, as we are independent contractors, and that means we don’t have employee rights, we still deserve human transparency. What I mean by that is we deserve to know the who, what, why and where of our work: why work is rejected, what our work is building, why our accounts are suspended, where does our data go when not it’s not paid and most of all we deserve to know who we are working for. Turkers know what we want.

Right now, we’re working to migrate Turkopticon from a university server and make it 100% worker-run. We’re recruiting other Turkers for one-on-one conversations to build solidarity among us. We have forum moderators who help Turkers who get really upset and vent at Turkopticon to channel their anger back at Amazon. We’re also developing campaigns for real change around account suspensions, to actually see the policies Amazon uses to guide how they treat us, and protect workers from mass rejections. Eventually we’ll invest in overhauling our Turkopticon requester review system.

So today, we Turkers are the requesters! We’re requesting monthly recurring donations to support our organizing and infrastructure.

As a worker who builds tech, there’s a lot you can do to support our work. Our main request is for you to make a recurring donation and provide a steady flow of resources for organizing. If you want to share what you know about how Mechanical Turk policies, technologies, or how requesters work, contact a Turkopticon organizer like me. Or if you just want to help strengthen our organizing generally, please get in touch. Workers know what we need for better work conditions, and we need to help each other and stand together to get there.

 

Mass rejections

First, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Sherry, lead organizer for Turkopticon. I have been a Turker for going on 6 years. You may ask why did I finally decide to step up and work to make Turk better? Two words: MASS REJECTION. My personal story involves having a great history of finding good new requesters and having plenty of wiggle room in my approval rating so I decided to work for a new requester in the same hopes of finding good work. That is when my Mturk experience drastically changed and I knew I had to stand up.

The hits were simple: look up a website then copy and paste some information (or so I thought). I did approximately 80 hits before I thought I should stop until some of these approve. I went on turking like normal, doing a few surveys and then went to check my dashboard. I was speechless when I saw the screen: 80+ rejections. I had never had this experience before and I instantly contacted the requester. I then went to the Turkopticon website and there it was: Numerous workers receiving the same treatment. No response from the requester. I emailed Amazon and didn’t get a response from them either. That’s when I realized we, as Turkers, have no option but to just take it when a requester wants to scam the system and not pay workers. Amazon takes no responsibility in protecting us. We’re basically on our own. I knew when Turkopticon reached out and asked for help that I could no longer stay hidden and I had to speak up!

Now, I’m asking you. What’s your experience with mass rejections and how have you handled them? Which requesters are guilty? Has Amazon helped resolve them in any way? Please send your stories to us at https://blog.turkopticon.info/?page_id=727 so we can work together to fix mass rejections and make Turk better for us all.

My Mturk Story, Part 1,

It was five years ago that I discovered Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT.)  A chaotic set of events led me to find it and as I’ve become part of the turker community I have learned that everyone has a story. This is mine.

When I was 30 years old I decided to go back to school and make a career change. I had previously worked in politics and enrolled at a university to pursue my degree in geology. At the time I was living off of a part-time job and student loans. I lived in a studio apartment for my first two years and then moved into a small house. Times were lean but I always made it.

I had not been feeling “right” for many years and was written off by doctors as being anxious. I kept plugging along the best I could. I figured the doctors must be correct. After all, I was what they called a “non-traditional college student” which, in my case, simply meant old.

In 2015 I began to have a lot of health problems. I couldn’t walk more than a few feet without being totally out of breath with a high heart rate. I felt dizzy when I had to stand for more than a minute. I was losing weight and at times I resembled a walking skeleton. My resting heart rates starting climbing. It became common to have heart rates between 150-190bpm. My joints started dislocating from simple movements. I was weak, scared, and felt physically ill all the time. The emergency room became a second home to me. I was getting so close to finishing my degree. By the time my field work requirements came up, no doctor would clear me to go. Just like that I was forced to stop my schooling and my job. I suddenly found myself sick and struggling to pay bills. My nearest family member was a six-hour drive away. I couldn’t find a traditional job in which I would be accommodated in the ways I needed. My town was small and there weren’t a lot of options. I became unable to drive and I started doing research about work-from-home opportunities.  That is how I stumbled upon AMT. I applied with hopes that this would be the answer to my troubles. It was here that I found that there were so many people with stories like mine. I don’t think that Amazon, or anyone for that matter, realizes how many people use this platform because of illness and/or disability. While flexibility is often decided between employee and employer, not all of us have had luck finding that in the job market. AMT allows for the flexibility that many of us need and I am thankful for that. While AMT sounds like a great solution to a problem many people face, there are downsides to having health issues and doing this work. There are areas that both Amazon and individual requesters could improve upon and I will touch on those in part two of this article which will be published in the next newsletter. I plan on talking about the number of hours it takes to pay the bills, requesters paying low wages for your most traumatic experiences, and the toll turking takes on the body.  In the meantime, I would love to hear YOUR story. Please feel free to send them in via our Facebook page or to newsletter@turkopticon.net. We might contact you for permission to use part of your story for the newsletter in the future! -K, Turkopticon

As a moderator on TO,

I spend a lot of time reading reviews from our awesome community. This week, while leaving a review of my own, I started thinking about how I’ve fallen short as a reviewer myself. I am much quicker to leave a negative review for a requester than a positive one. Many of us on TO are this way. I’m speaking to myself more than anyone when I say this. Shouldn’t we want the good requesters to get the recognition they deserve? We want them to find Amazon Mechanical Turk to be the platform they need to get their hits done. We want them to stick around, do more studies and tell their colleagues about it. As a worker I also want to see the good. I want to know about the hits I should be doing, not just the ones to stay away from. So many requesters are falling through the cracks, especially the newer ones that are not being reviewed at all on TO. If you’re like me, you may even try to stay away from the unreviewed requesters. Thinking about my experience though, if I have had trouble with a hit from a new requester, the majority of the time it gets resolved with an email. They have to start somewhere, and as someone who helps represent TO, I should be willing to give them a chance. So this week I’m making a real effort to leave reviews for all levels of requesters, and especially the new ones. Even if it’s just one a week, I encourage you to do the same.

Newsletter 5

Welcome to our 5th Newsletter 

Our  August 2020 newsletter. We will be sending a newsletter out once a month to keep you up to date with what is going on at Turkopticon. You can see our previous newsletters on our blog here

We are also now taking on helping suspended accounts be reinstated if they were suspended in error, talking with requesters to improve conditions, and passing all the suggestions from Turkers and requesters on to Amazon to actually make our Turk work better. During this transition we have added a donate page to our website, blog and newsletter. We are in no way saying you have to donate but we are asking that if you want the service remain free and you are able: please donate. We also plan to look for and locate other funding but your donations will be important too!  Please help us remain free so we can work to make Turk better for all of us!

See the bottom of the newsletter for how you can submit short articles.

New Pay buckets for Reviews Update

We have been trying the new pay buckets for nearly a month now and it seems that most of you seem to like the new system. We did have a few issues with other scripts that use our data in the 1st 24hrs which we managed to sort out. We really apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. We hope you think it was worth while

The new pay buckets will replace the old generosity rating when the new reviews start to come through for a requester. 

The new script is available if you have not already updated script available to display the new feature. 

We are still looking for your feedback as to what you think of it and look forward to your comments. We would love to hear feedback via either on our Facebook page, Twitter or by email.

Turkopticon is looking for suggestions!

Do you have suggestions for how to make Turkopticon better and want to share them, please email volunteercoms@turkopticon.net and someone will be in contact to further hear about your suggestions and see how we all can work together to make Turk better for all of us.

Even if you think your  ideas are ones we should know please don’t be afraid to send them our way because we listen to all suggestions and want everyone to be heard!

As a moderator on TO,

I spend a lot of time reading reviews from our awesome community. This week, while leaving a review of my own, I started thinking about how I’ve fallen short as a reviewer myself. I am much quicker to leave a negative review for a requester than a positive one. Many of us on TO are this way. I’m speaking to myself more than anyone when I say this. Shouldn’t we want the good requesters to get the recognition they deserve? We want them to find Amazon Mechanical Turk to be the platform they need to get their hits done. We want them to stick around, do more studies and tell their colleagues about it. As a worker I also want to see the good. I want to know about the hits I should be doing, not just the ones to stay away from. So many requesters are falling through the cracks, especially the newer ones that are not being reviewed at all on TO. If you’re like me, you may even try to stay away from the unreviewed requesters. Thinking about my experience though, if I have had trouble with a hit from a new requester, the majority of the time it gets resolved with an email. They have to start somewhere, and as someone who helps represent TO, I should be willing to give them a chance. So this week I’m making a real effort to leave reviews for all levels of requesters, and especially the new ones. Even if it’s just one a week, I encourage you to do the same.

Join Us on Facebook! 

The Turkopticon community is growing!  Our Facebook page went live on Thursday, June 4th and we would love for you to join us. Participate in the conversations, learn about upcoming projects, and stay up to date on the latest news by giving us a “like.” You can find the page by searching for Turkopticon or visiting https://www.facebook.com/Turkopticon/.

Participation in an Art Film

Hello, I am a visual artist that makes short films.

I am looking for Mturk worker participants for a short art film about the labor conditions of online work. Participants will re-perform moments from a failed utopian labor camp set up by Henry Ford in the 1920s in the Brazilian Amazon. We will re-perform scenes from this real history as if it was happening now. Participants will need to have the ability to shoot footage at their location on their own devices. At a later date, participants will be paid to travel to a specific location for a studio shoot with me and a professional film crew.

This position will be paid, and participants will need to agree to an ongoing involvement in the project from now until the end of the year.

During the Coronovirus pandemic, all work will happen online.

We will meet and shoot in person only when it is entirely safe to do so.

Please contact me if you are interested in participating:

danielledeanstudio@gmail.com

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Submitting articles to the Turkopticon newsletter

This newsletter is a space for us at the Turkopticon community to hear from each other. Submit short pieces up to 250 words to newsletter@turkopticon.net with Newsletter submission in the subject line.

Submissions should follow the civility guidelines. Want more than 250 words? 

Get in touch and let us know your article idea.