Andalucia Steve the dream

Amazon's Mechanical Turk Sucks Unless You're a Yank!

The online retailing giant moves its own money about the world but not mine!

Jeff Bezos 2005Work has been on the scarce side recently, so scarce infact that I turned to Amazon's Mechanical Turk website with a view to making a little cash in time for Christmas.

In case you are not aware, Mechanical Turk is a website that offers work that humans can do that computers can't. It could be tagging items in an image or reviewing a website, taking a survey etc. The jobs don't pay very well. One afternoon, after four hours slaving away in front of my computer I'd made on average $0.56 per hour! It is regarded by many as an online sweatshop, though there is an argument that if you're smart and can figure out which of the higher paying jobs require less time, you can earn $10-$20 dollars a day, which is a living in a third world country. Again on the positive side there are no job interviews, you just grab a job and do it.

So I jumped right in and started working away on these tasks, some of which are incredibly mind numbing. After about ten days I'd earned $30, which I had set myself as the target of my first money transfer.

I had scanned through the instructions before I started working and read that I could either transfer the cash to my bank, or have it transferred to my Amazon gift certificate balance. I wanted to do the former, but when I went to do it, the only option was to have the money in gift certificates. I went through the small print, and sure enough, because I don't live in America (I'm a Brit living in Spain), a bank transfer was not available to me.

So I transferred the money in to gift certificates. Went to - $30 in my gift certificate balance - great!

Then I went to buy something on, got to the check out - no gift certificate balance! Despite appearing as one company and having a single login/password for each international website, after reading the small print, Amazon gift certificates can not be transferred between one of their websites to another. Not impressed. I tried to order something from the US website and the postage was horrendous, so I may try and do a deal with a friend in America to buy something for them in exchange for the cash. It shouldn't be that difficult.

But it doesn't stop there. During my time on Mturk it dawned on my there was money to be made here as an employer. After a few days an idea struck me that I could distribute across multiple workers and sell on (I won't share the idea because it is still possible I'll go ahead with it). So I tried to sign up as a Mechanical Turk employer, rather than an employee. It turns out that... NO - IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO EMPLOY PEOPLE ON MECHANICAL TURK UNLESS YOU ARE AN AMERICAN CITIZEN.

Did you see what I just did there? I went into bold caps. That's because I'm getting angry, or as us Londoners say, "I'm getting the right hump"!

Number 21 on Forbes list of billionaires, Bezos has become one of the richest blokes on the planet by using online globalization to his advantage. Amazon has been criticized for its use of dubious sales practices, sidestepping sales taxes in the US and abroad, and more recently in 2012 being under investigation by the UK tax authorities for paying zero corporation tax on sales of £7 billion by hiving off its profit to another EU country with a lower taxation rate. Yet on Mturk, you cannot take advantage of a global workforce unless you are a yank, you cannot move money around and you can't move your gift balance.

 Times don't change. As ever there is a rule for the rich and a different one for the poor.



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