Welcome to Broken Turk...

I started Turking a few months ago, made a quick couple hundred dollars, and then learned how MTurk's system leaves workers too often out in the cold.  The site is not well maintained, and it functions far below Amazon's standards of customer service and user optimization.  A Turker faces seemingly random blocks with little recourse.  Spam tasks are not well screened.  The interface needs basic improvements.  Development is frustratingly slow.  Amazon has heard these criticisms many times over but mysteriously has done little in response.

The point: a company as sophisticated and customer-service oriented as Amazon should pay more attention to its flagship crowdsourcing operation.  MTurk should be nimble and trustworthy.  It should not treat its best workers the same as its worst.  Users should be given the benefit of the doubt, or an opportunity to establish a meaningful reputation.  Site search should be robust.  Task and profit tracking should be personalized and detailed.  The site should be easy and efficient to use, and new features should be added regularly in response to user input.

The purpose of this blog is not to badmouth Mechanical Turk or Amazon.com, but to help them make a better system which will attract more people to use it,
contribute to it, and benefit from it.  Let me know what you think...

Four out of ten HITs are spam. Surprise.

So says NYU business professor, Panos Ipeirotis.  Here's his finding:
The results were disturbing. Out of the total of 5841 HITs, a total of 2390 HITs, or 40.92% were marked as spam HITs.
Turkers have a feel for what to avoid.  If it sounds too good to be true, if it looks fishy, if the requester is unknown and offering $10.13 for a ''quick HIT'', we try it once, and don't try it ever again.  But why are these tasks still on the site at all?  They're painfully obvious to notice (except for newcomers), and they bring down the efficiency and reputation of the site.  Maybe Amazon will do something about it.

Here's the link to Panos' full post describing his research: http://behind-the-enemy-lines.blogspot.com/2010/12/mechanical-turk-now-with-4092-spam.html

Spamgirl speaks! An interview (part 1 of 3)

Spamgirl is the dutiful, no-nonsense moderator of http://turkers.proboards.com, the Turker forum.  She was gracious and uncensored enough to talk about her experience with Mechanical Turk in great detail.  Enjoy.

Where did you get the name Spamgirl? Why go there?

When I first started on the internet (oh man, it was TELNET LOL I'm old) I had a different name. Then my daughter was born and, well... she stole it from me and decided to use it for herself. I needed a new name, I was literally nameless. I went through a bazillion (Starla, Sunburnt Raisin, gosh I can't even remember them all) and then one day my friend was commenting on my anti-UCE activities and called me "The Spamgirl". It stuck. I also had a website at the time called "Sensible People Against Misinformation", so it fit even better. To be honest, it's been the bane of my existence - beyond the Hormel jokes, every time I sign up for anything I get an email before I'm approved asking me if I'm a spammer, or if I'm serious. Would a spammer truly call themselves Spamgirl? Uhm, no. I try to use antispamgirl now, as it's more appropriate, but I always forget and get locked out of my accounts when I try to log in.

What's it like being [presumably] female in the role of an internet forum moderator for a microtasking site. This is an area traditionally occupied by males. Or isn't it?

LOL Yes, female. I've been running forums for around a decade (RealityBBQ was mine until I sold it a few years ago, another site called KinzFans had a booming forum I ran) and on both it was mainly females running the show. When it comes to mTurk, I think the stats bear out a pretty even ratio of males and females working. That said, all the rest of the staff here (that are active, at least) are male. There are lots of female posters, though. I think it's pretty even, but I've never had a problem battling the boys so I haven't ever thought of it before. :)

Were you a Turker first? Are you still a Turker? What's your typical Turking like?

I've been a turker since November of 2005. I still turk, way too many hours a day, far too many days a week. I spend my life at my computer - at least until my husband finds a job and we can afford for me to take some breaks.

Tell me about any problems you have had as a Turker. What are the biggest complaints you would 'personally' raise?

Oh lordie, where do we start... international workers need to be paid in cash. Period. I know it's a huge problem, but every other site like this does it. It's ridiculous that after 5 years (happy anniversary, Spamgirl!) they still don't. I wish I knew why, I'd personally pledge to figure out a way around their problems. :)

No requester accountability for rejections, the amount of shitty requesters, no worker/requester forum, lack of communication between mTurk/requesters/workers, no way to rate requesters (and ditto for workers), insufficient help docs for workers and requesters... mTurk knows my complaints, they have a list :)

What are the biggest complaints you hear on the forum?

International payments, bad requesters ("spammers" and blackhats), being suspended with no recourse, no mediation between requesters and workers, no bonus tracking in My Account, and no way to know why your HIT was rejected.

If you could go into Amazon's system for a day and have free reign to prioritize their development schedule, what 5 changes to Mechanical Turk would you put at the top of the list?

1. International payments
2. Disallow new worker accounts for x months (i.e. until new workers are needed)
3. New requesters must put down $100 into their account via BANK ACCOUNT (NOT CC) before they're permitted to put up any HITs, and do a phone number confirmation, and submit a driver's license
4. Create a forum so requesters and workers can communicate (we'd still have this one because I'm sure the freedom on an official forum to speak your mind would be limited, and that's fair)
5. Create a mediation area of some sort so workers and requesters could communicate about blocks/rejections/etc. and mTurk would be better advised on bad requesters (and workers!)

read on to part 2 (of 3)

Spamgirl speaks! An interview (part 2 of 3)

continued from part 1.

You have the unique position as being a sort of mythical figure able to cross the customer-service moat and pass the automated banning dragons and actually speak with a human being at Amazon. How'd you get that gig?
I'm a loudmouth, so I was one of a few picked to do some surveys (I think, this is from memory and my memory is poor)... like focus groups. From there I struck up a conversation with the person at Amazon running the groups, and it went from there.

You've commented that a lot of the people you help through the TurkerNation forum deserved their blocks? Can you explain that. Has that changed recently?
Yes, it has changed, but only because I've made it blatantly clear that I'm not going to suffer fools. The same number of LEGITIMATE people are coming to me with bans, and the same number are being reinstated. I'd rather mTurk do something and screw up sometimes than do nothing and we all get screwed.

Specifically, and this is really the main issue: What must Amazon do to make its human resources management fair?
They can't. They don't have an applications process - they certainly can't afford to go through each worker and determine if they're good or bad, and even if they tried it wouldn't be accurate - so they're going to get more bad than good, it's natural. The only thing I'd recommend is some sort of appeals process as I can't imagine it's that hard to look at someone's work history and determine if their ban was a mistake or not (HIRE ME, AMAZON! I'LL DO IT! ;)

Are you paid for your work with Amazon? What do you know that we don't? What kinds of things aren't you allowed to tell us?
ROFL *kisses*

On a scale of one to ten, how aware is Amazon of the issues that people raise on this forum (ten being more aware)?
100. They have spies, you know, who read this forum all the time. Plus I'm a bug in their ear about all this stuff... I'm the Hoffa of the Turkers! Trying to help the people :) (at least, the ones worth helping. Screw the scammers!)

On a scale of one to ten, how legitimate do you think those issues are, one being 'Turker Nation is a bunch of whiners' and ten being 'There are families starving because of poor user interface design'?
6ish. I think people tend to forget that Amazon and mTurk are separate. mTurk doesn't have a bottomless spending account, and the more we push on certain costly issues, the more likely mTurk will be shut down for not being profitable. We have to weigh the issues on a personal basis - what is intolerable? Where can I bend? Is it worth it for me to turk on eggshells or should I just walk? If it's truly causing upset, then it's best to just move on. That said, there is nothing wrong with a little protest, but we have to know that what we say and do has to be constructive and written professionally for mTurk to truly take us seriously. Whining, bitching, cussing (yeah, I know I cuss a lot LOL), flaming, and attacking don't get mTurk's attention. Petitions don't work, either, because (in my experience) Amazon employees don't like being told what to do (this isn't a personal thing, but seems like a general company policy.) The only "protest" that WOULD work would be the bulk of GOOD Turkers walking away from it, but that will *never* happen. If you have a complaint, post it - if there isn't already a thread for it, make a new one with a very clear title. They'll read it, and if you post a valid, intelligent argument, they WILL take it under advisement.

I know they're working hard on making it better for us, but I have a feeling that the infrastructure they have in place is ... uhm... not built well. I think it's probably hard for them to make major changes without crashing the entire system, I doubt it was built for expansion.

How would you describe the position that Mechanical Turk occupies in the Amazon.com universe? Do you think that Amazon ignores Mechanical Turk, and if so, do they do it intentionally? If they do it intentionally, why? Do they treat the site like a technological experiment, or is it just not that profitable, or is the profit sufficient but not worth further investment, or are they just waiting to blow our minds with MTurk 2.0 some time next year.
I honestly have no idea how the two connect... Amazon seems to know nothing about mTurk, and mTurk is it's own little planet to itself. I personally think Bezos must have some sort of stake in it for it to still be open (I felt the same way about Askville, but now I see it's just an SEO tool.)

Have you spoken to Jeff Bezos? Seriously.
LOL No, never :) I don't know if he knows what mTurk is!

What's your HIT approval rate? Have you ever been blocked? This is a little zen, but bear with me: Is there such a thing as a Mechanical Turk ban that even Spamgirl cannot unblock?
My HIT approval rate is 97.6%, further proof that a high approval rate doesn't mean anything. I had a HUGE number of HITs rejected back in the days of Enrovia, and everyone but mine were fixed (I was very vocal about my feelings about Enrovia.) So out of the 5000 rejections I have, I'd guess 4000 were from that situation. So I really have a 99.5% rejection rate, but what can I do? :)

I've never received an email saying I was blocked, but I don't dabble in unknown waters. I only do HITs for people with a smiley and many comments in the Hall of Shame/Fame.

There are bans I can't get unbanned, but they're the ones that were deserved and I wouldn't try to get them unbanned anyway. So I suppose no, never have I vouched for someone who didn't get their account back. I only vouch for people I know to be good workers, though. I submit an appeal for everyone else :)

How much contact do you have with other crowdsourcing operations, like CrowdFlower's Dolores Labs or the transcription service Casting words?
None. When I did Castingwords HITs I talked to them a smidge, but typically only about problems. I've never spoken with the people at Turkopticon, or Dolores Labs, or any requesters I'm not complaining to. Requesters ask me questions here, of course, but it tends not to go deeper. The only relationships I have are with Amazon Requester/mTurk, and even then it's only for certain HITs.

read on to part 3 (of 3)

Spamgirl speaks! An interview (part 3 of 3)

continued from part 2

Personal Stuff

*How old are you? (definitely skip that one. rude!)
I'm in my 30s :)

*Where are you from? Where do you live now?
Toronto, born and bred.

*Do you have a college degree?
Ish... I have a certification in Web Design from a college, but I hate web design so it's expensive paper.

*Are you married?
Yups :)

*Does your family know about your Turking? What do they think about it?
ROFL! How could they not :) They've been bitter about it for years, but understand it's what brings in the cheddar. My husband had to buy a new cell phone 2 days ago after his got smushed by a tractor (*sigh*) and I said GREAT! THAT'S WHAT, A WEEK OF TURKING? He had no response.

*What have you purchased with your Turking earnings?
Uhm, other than the naughty stuff? LOL Everything from an Xbox 360 to garbage bags to clothing to bath stuff. I've spent thousands in my years, and I have a house full of Turkin' profits to show for it :)

*How would you describe the economic role of your Turking: lama skins - spa trips - ipads - restaurant dinners - credit card bills - electricity bills - food?
At the moment it's the only thing keeping us afloat. My husband lost his job in April and I haven't had a "real" job in a year (yesterday! Happy anniversary, Spamgirl, again.) I have medical issues that prevent me from working outside my home, so without mTurk... we'd be foreclosed and homeless. Before my husband lost his job it was a way to buy gifts and necessities and even treats (Coach handbag! Wut!)

Big Questions

What do you think about the role of crowdsourcing in the future of employment?
I see it as fairly insignificant. I don't think most work can be done this way, and I think the work that can be completed is, for the most part, too cheap for most to bother wanting to do it.

Is crowdsourcing fair?
Is life fair? No job is fair, IMHO. It is fairer than others in that you're free to do what you want, when you want, or nothing at all. Quitting a job can be detrimental to your reputation and difficult to do.

Is crowdsourcing a 'good thing' for workers?
As above.

What responsibilities does Amazon have to the task posters and task workers? Is Amazon meeting them?
Amazon, mTurk, seems to hold the belief that they will build the system and that's the extent of what they'll do. They've built a requester area which has a forum, so requesters receive some help and some documentation, but they complain it isn't enough. mTurk can't hold everyone's hand, I understand that, but the problems seem to repeat themselves and could probably be solved with a little effort (bad workers, no communication, how do I email a worker, how do I create a qualification test easily, etc.)

mTurk has little responsibility when it comes to workers. They just don't have the funds or time to put into creating a communication system, but they do what they can - they even post on the forum as necessary. I can't say I EXPECT more from them, but more could certainly be done.

How have you seen crowdsourcing change since it hit the scene in the middle of last decade?
I only know how it's changed at mTurk, as I don't visit elsewhere. In the beginning it was the wild frontier - few workers, lots of work, and experimentation. All the HITs were valid, even if the requesters were greedy baddies. Since then it's become rife with black hats and scammers who post on forums about how to screw us. It has also been inundated with non-English speakers who think their English is good enough to do writing HITs, which is a major complaint by requesters.

In ten years, what do you think you'll be doing in relation to Mechanical Turk?
Praise God, may I not even remember the place by then! :) If I'm still kickin' in 10 years, I'll have won the lottery and moved on :) I love mTurk, and I love the work I do, and I appreciate everything they have done for me, but I have to work so hard to make enough just to EAT... I can't wait until the debt is paid off, hubby gets a job, and I can spend some time with my family. I'm a little burnt out.

That's it!  thank Spamgirl for her dedicated service and leave a comment or stop by the Turker Nation forum to let her know whatever you're thinking.  Maybe she'll field follow up questions here, so leave 'em if you got 'em.

No-interference doesn't mean no-standards

Here's a quote:
mturk wants it both ways- they say they're not involved, and it's between us and the requesters, yet they suspend our accounts for blocks.   link
It's from http://www.turkernation.com, the ProBoards forum where Turkers post about their experiences on MTurk.  By and large the experiences are positive and the people there are eager for and appreciate good work and fair practices.  For the record, this blog has no affiliation with that site.

What that quote shows off is the current slack excuse that Amazon uses to justify their lack of a coherent, common-sense, responsive policy.   But as the poster highlights, it doesn't matter what happens between a Turker and a Requester until Amazon authorizes those actions as reasons for full site suspensions.  This blog is not about defending bad workers; they exist and shouldn't be on the site.  But when good workers are caught up in the same net and have to scrape and grovel to get back on to the site and work, it's a problem.

A reasonable idea, a telling commentary

This comment from the Turker Nation forum seems both reasonable and very telling:
I never understood why messages sent between worker and requesters were not done through Mturk. It would be much easier to log in and get your messages. I would also like to see blocks listed the way qualifications are listed. This way, workers know who has blocked them and how many blocks they have.

If we eliminate the issue of human decency and look at this purely from a business standpoint, Mturk is hurting itself with the way it is handling blocks and suspensions. Mturk gets a percentage from requesters for each HIT workers do. I understand they want to make sure requesters get good work so they continue to use Mturk. However, their current approach will not always get rid of bad workers. As many have said, scammers will use multiple accounts and computers. On the other hand, they are losing some good workers. Many workers sometimes use their earnings to buy things from Amazon. Each worker has family and friends who buy from Amazon. It is not good business to treat workers poorly.  link

There's more where this came from

Spamgirl says:
I've been working for a long time just to get mTurk to set up a Requester/Turker communication portal of some sort, and they are all for it and yet it hasn't materialized. They don't have the people power nor the funding to add much to the site that doesn't directly increase revenue by pleasing requesters.

Like you said, it takes an enormous effort to get mTurk/Amazon to make changes based on Turker feedback. I've been working with them as much as possible and honestly, they're doing what they can with what they have and I respect their efforts... but the things we're asking for are relatively huge, and the platform mTurk is built on, code wise, is shaky. For example, it's broken right now! Who knows why...

I've slammed my head against the mTurk wall enough times to know that after a while it's not worth having lofty goals  link


A spot-on commentary:
This is ridiculous. I've only been turking for a couple of months (actually today is my two month anniversary), but I find it so hard to believe that a gigantic, well respected company like Amazon doesn't have a better system in place for Mturk.

There is a severe lack of controls. At the very, very least, there should be a system in place to dispute a block or a ban with both sides submitting their sides of their story. It's a joke that Amazon doesn't look at a user's history and/or percentage rating before blocking someone's only source of income.  link
 Yup.  Exactly.

Letter from a Turker to Amazon

Posted on the boards:
I'm writing about a recent spate of account bans that have been reported at the turkernation.com forums. As you probably know, this site collects some of the most active, energetic, passionate, and committed users of MTurk.
Shockingly, many of them have been banned in the past few months because of the mistakes of only a few requesters. In the most recent case a user who had done 60k HITS with a 99.1% approval rating, and conservatively worked for the same few posters found herself banned and blocked.
Again, one of your MOST committed users is suddenly out of a job and without recourse except a polite letter from MTurk that you'll look into it later.
I don't know what's worse, that the people who might be your best advocates are getting spuriously banned or that Amazon seems to think this is OK! You are the world's preeminent customer service company and the level of customer service for the workers on this site is close to pathetic.
And I like the site!  link

Too little, too late: The new Amazon way?

Amazon.com has set a standard for customer service that is literally etched into their corporate mission.  So how do they explain this:

I am truly sorry for your concern about being blocked by a Requester, and I would be happy to help you. However, as stated on our site, all approvals, rejections, and blocks are at the sole discretion of the Requester.

I have passed along some feedback regarding implementing a dispute process for workers that feel that they should not have been blocked. I understand that a future change in the program would not be of any assistance to you now, however it may stop another worker from having the same experience that you had.

This is something that you will need to work out with the Requester directly. For your reference, here's how to contact the Requester again:

1. Click on the title of the HIT.
2. On the lower right-hand side of the box, click "Contact the Requester of this HIT"
3. Enter your question about the HIT and submit.

After you have sent your message, you may need to wait a few days for a reply. Some Requesters do not monitor their messages every day.

If you have any other questions or concerns, please use the following secure link to contact us back to ensure that we receive your message:


I apologize for the frustration that this experience has caused you, and thanks for participating in Mechanical Turk.  link

I've said it before on this site, but it needs repeating.  Amazon makes the banning policy.  Amazon issues the suspensions.  Anything else is a deflection.  "I understand that a future change in the program would not be of any assistance to you now, however it may stop another worker from having the same experience that you had."  Does this sound like a company that cares about its users and is committed to offering the best technology and customer service?

How about they pull rank, apologize, reinstate the account immediately, apologize for the inconvenience, issue a bonus credit, and then actually fix the system.  Again, this happens to long-time Turkers with approval ratings in the high 90's.  That's like taking away someone's driver's license permanently, because of three speeding tickets... in their whole life!

Bad customer service is never funny

The ban-monster strikes again:
Haha, this is pretty funny. Today I received two emails from Amazon apologizing for the warning emails, apparently only the first of three warnings were valid, the other two were Amazon mistakes. They say that the account has been reactivated... we'll see if they follow through.

EDIT: In true Amazon fashion, my account was never reactivated... and I still have no way of contacting them. I posted in the requester forum with no luck whatsoever. I honestly don't know how Amazon is in business, their support is by far the worst I have ever seen in any business yet
. link
What does it mean when the world's premier technology corporation, which prides itself on customer service, lets this stand as the example for their flagship crowdsourcing platform?  I think it means they're not paying attention.

As always, this blog is in no way affiliated with Turkernation.com or its posters.

If your employee exit interviews looked like this, what would you do?

  • This is getting to be ridiculous.  Random rejections,random blocks and suspensions,no turker or requester support(just check out the official requester forums)... It's obvious that Amazon treats Mturk like a bastard child it never wanted. Suspensions and blocks hurt only the legitimate workers.Any blocked scammer will just create another account and start scamming again. It's not true that turkers can't do anything to change the current situation,boycotting mturk and leaving hits in the hands of "less capable" turkers for a couple of days as well as a little bit of media coverage should do wonders ... link 

  • They created something that has essentially become one of the largest and most diverse staffing agencies on the globe, and now it seems like they are ill-equipped to handle the enormous responsibility that comes with that.  link

  • I agree;but since I started turking in 2008. the whole thing just seems to be heading downhill,and Amazon isn't doing a thing to stop it.  link

  • When I got banned, I had just two blocks on my record, PED and Calliston-Burch. At least it looks like they are responding to you. They didn't respond to my inquiries for eight days, and then just wrote back and said that your account has been reinstated.  link

  • It's quite possible we're not getting all emails about blocks - I know a good portion of my mTurk emails never arrive.  link

  • This is not a requester problem. This is a problem caused by Amazon itself. They want us to believe it's a scattered issue. IT ISN'T, Amazon has the sole power to fix this, they just don't want to dedicate the time and money to govern MTurk the way it deserves.  link

What's it like to work for Amazon?

There is something very demeaning in being warned and told to do high quality work when you know that is what you have been doing, even when you are getting paid a cent or two for that work.

We might be working for cheap, but most of us take pride in doing good work and once we accept a hit, we try to do our best and give the requester more value than what we are paid for.

The worse is not being able to defend yourself or to see the work history you build mean a thing. link

A weekend with Mechanical Turk

I hope these stories don't feel repetitive; the truth is, they are repetitive.  On any given morning, even the most experienced, trustworthy Turker can wake up to this:
Just out of the blue my account was suspended. I cant figure out what could be the reason.

I had 200 Hits pending with chris who confirmed that he has not blocked me.

I had 4 hits with intellius but they are in pedning status in amazon payments which means they are approved.

I had 4-5 hits with classify it, may be he has blocked me but i doubt that they would cause i have done only few of them.

please help me guys what do i do, i have message spamgirl any other advice?

PS: I am one of the victim of PED research block!  link
 One or two bad requesters can ruin an entire account.
Check your spam email folder. Mturk emails you when a requester has blocked you. However, the email may not arrive until 1 or 2 days after the block.

Amazon Requester recently blocked many workers, reason unknown. It does not matter that the worker had not done work for them in recent days or weeks. It also did not matter that they had paid for completed hits. Based on my experience with them, I would say that payment or pending payment does not guarantee that requester has not or will not block you.  link
Again, this is happening to the better Turkers, not the slew of scammers and drive-by workers.  And they notice:
I have checked spam folder and nothing is there. Seriously it is so humiliating for a worker to be treated like this.  link

What can you do?

A blog full of good content doesn't do any good if no one can find it.  How can you help?

* Visit, read, and comment regularly
* Link to this blog from yours (Turking related exchanges welcome)
* Post comments about this blog on other sites that mention Mechanical Turk
* Contact Amazon.com's customer service department (logged in or anonymously)
* Contact Mechanical Turk's customer service (link) and politely tell them about this blog
* Let me know how you found this blog and what you think about it

Amazon is not there to protect you

This Turker at MTurkforums.com came to the harsh realization that, though Mechanical Turk will be there to suspend you, they won't step in to defend you:
Turk will not protect its workers?!

I woke up to find that 65 HITs were rejected simultaneously for the same reason, by the same requester. The reason they gave was absolutely impossible due to the nature of the assignment, and they copied and pasted this reason into every single rejected HIT.
I have a done couple hundred HITs for the same requester in the past, all of which were accepted. In fact, out of thousands of HITs, I have had only one rejection, ever. It seemed to me that the requester decided to take my work, and not pay for it.

The problem is, besides losing time and money, it has severely hurt my score, and Turk is threatening my account. I wrote to Turk, and they informed me that they do not have a policy to investigate or protect their workers, but that they would take it into suggestion.

I am shocked. They claim that they do not get involved, but yet they threaten my account on behalf of a requester, and they will not look at the issue. Their suggestion to me: go talk about it on the forum. Seriously? A company like Amazon does not protect its workers, especially that we have to go on faith that we will ever be reimbursed?

Has anything similar to this ever happened to anyone else? Because I'm about to walk away from the site entirely.  link
One Turker offered this cynical but realistic response:
Its because in the end it all comes over money.

It would cut into their profits if they had to hire people to check peoples work. Since there are hundreds of thousands of HITs done each day and a good chunk are rejected and people complain, it would be impossible to go through them all. You might have a case since you have done the same work in the past for the same guy and all of a sudden hes rejecting everything.

I once had someone do the same thing, it tanked my account and I had to start a new one and do over some of the requirements. I did about 140 HITs for this one guy that seemed to love me cause he would write me at the end of each run. Then one day he flipped. I dont know why except when I wrote him, he said that he was tired of being ripped off by everyone cause I guess someone scripted a bot and screwed him for 300 bucks. Since they auto approved at the time, he had little recourse since they did auto approve. So he went a bit nuts and went on a rejecting spree, I understand his anger but I always did good work. So it happens sometimes.  link
These kinds of things are common but not acceptable.  It's one thing to deal with requesters who occasionally go off the deep end, but it's another for Amazon to not make any attempt to distinguish between a good worker and a bad worker, a good block and a bad block.  In sum, all the risk is on the Turker and if you get tripped up for any reason, don't expect Amazon to lend a hand.  In fact, they'll probably cancel your account.

This is fully within Amazon/Mechanical Turk's purview.  Nothing is stopping them from raising their requirements for suspensions or using a probationary model which allows Turkers to challenge their blocks before they turn into suspensions.  Is that so much to ask?

TOS Trial and Error: Learning the hard way

You might recall our recent post where we reprinted the Mechanical Turk Terms of Service (they call it a 'Participation Agreement').  If you were looking closely, you might have seen a few thousand words which didn't actually lay out the do's and don't of using the site.  So, you probably did like this guy, and learned where the walls were by crashing your car right into them:

Really Sad about account suspension

Hi all, I just started turking this week. I think it's fun, I love data entry, been doing it in one form another for years.

Anyhow, I was just working along and BAM! Account suspended. I've emailed Amazon, no reply (except the auto reply).

Is there any hope? I LOVE Amazon. Been a customer for YEARS. I'm honest, not a robot, live in the USA, etc. I know, you've all heard that before. I've earned around $47 so far (still in my account, not able to transfer it). Not a fortune, but yes, a lot of time put into it.

All of my stats looked fine. I did get blocked by one requester (elki media I think it was) because it was my second day and I put my answer in the comments section and not the text area by the photo.

I really enjoy this type of work. I'm so sad and disappointed I got suspended! Is there hope to get unblocked? So sad they would do this, you'd think they could easily check my Amazon account to see I'm a real person who's been a good customer for years. Happiness is receiving an Amazon box in the mail!  link 
Hi all, here is an update.

mTurk un-suspended me w/a note that says they suggest I reread their rules. Which I did. (more below)

However, when my mTurk account was suspended, my Amazon payments account was suspended. I only knew this because when I logged into mTurk it told me so. I could log into my payments account with no problems and saw no errors or reasons why it was suspended. It took payments 1-2 days to unsuspended that account. Amazon payments did not tell me why my account was suspended.

Neither mTurk or payments informed me via email that my accounts were suspended. I only learned this by the sudden suspended screen as I was doing hits.

I did reread the mturk rules to see if I had violated them in any way. I couldn't see anything obvious, but here is a possibility. I have both a laptop and a desktop. I move back and forth between them on a regular basis. Could it possibly be that Amazon thought I was two people working on hits at the same time on the same account? I'll be logging out on the computers when I leave mTurk and use a different computer from now on. Although one could see that no hits were submitted at the same time, simultaneously, or within seconds, of each other. That was all I could think of.

I'm happy to be turking again and hopefully there won't be any problems in the future.  link

Moral of the story:  read the terms of service?  Really?  This is the antithesis of user-interface best practices, letting people walk into the mines to figure out where not to step.  Amazon, you wouldn't stand for this on any of your other sites.  Why here?  Jeff....????

If only we had read the directions... (eye roll)

All of this complaining is just sour grapes, right?  I mean, after all, there are policies and if you don't follow them you should be booted.  Oh, naive one. 

Here are the policies.  Since Amazon is a customer-service organization, I'll just reprint the Terms of Service in full, since it's nice and easy to read and geared toward user friendliness.  Right.  See you after the fold:

Amazon Mechanical Turk Participation Agreement
Last updated: April 29, 2009
Welcome to the Amazon Mechanical Turk services platform.
BY REGISTERING FOR AND USING THE SITE, YOU CERTIFY THAT (1) YOU ARE AT LEAST 18 YEARS OLD; (2) YOU HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO ENTER INTO THIS AGREEMENT AND BIND YOURSELF OR THE COMPANY YOU REPRESENT; (3) YOU AUTHORIZE THE ELECTRONIC TRANSFER OF FUNDS TO YOUR BANK ACCOUNT IN ACCORDANCE WITH SECTION 4 OF THIS PARTICIPATION AGREEMENT; AND (4) YOU AGREE TO BE BOUND BY ALL TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF THIS AGREEMENT, INCLUDING THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF THE PAYMENT SERVICE DESCRIBED IN SECTION 4 AND ALL APPLICABLE POLICIES, PROCEDURES AND GUIDELINES. This Participation Agreement (the "Agreement") is between you and Amazon Mechanical Turk (as defined below) and governs your and Amazon Mechanical Turk's respective rights and obligations with respect to your offering for sale, selling, requesting, purchasing, and/or providing Services (defined below) on or through the Site (as defined below).
For purposes of this Agreement, (a) "Amazon Mechanical Turk", "we", "us" or "our" means Amazon Mechanical Turk, Inc. a Delaware Corporation, (b) "Site" means the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site located at mturk.amazon.com, requester.mturk.com, www.mturk.com and any successor website thereto, including all services provided by us to you through the service platform on the Site, (c) "Services" means any service that you sell, offer to sell, request, purchase, and/or provide on or through the Site, (d) "Affiliate" means any entity controlled by, in control of, or under common control with Amazon Mechanical Turk, (e) "Requester" means you, if you use the Site to request that a Provider perform Services, (f) "Provider" means you, if you use the Site to perform Services for a Requester, (g) "Amazon Account" means any customer account that you have established with a website owned or controlled by Amazon or its Affiliates, or operated by Amazon or its Affiliates on behalf of third parties, including without limitation those websites currently located at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.amazon.co.uk, http://www.amazon.de, http://www.amazon.fr, http://www.amazon.ca, http://www.amazon.co.jp and http://www.joyo.com, and any successor or replacement websites.
This Agreement consists of the terms and conditions set forth in this document together with all applicable policies, procedures and/or guidelines that appear on the Site from time to time (collectively, the "Policies" which are hereby incorporated by this reference into, and made part of, this Agreement). Amazon Mechanical Turk reserves the right to change any of the terms and conditions contained in this Agreement and/or any Policies governing the Site, at any time, in its sole discretion. Any changes will be effective upon posting of the Agreement or Policies on the Site and may be made without any other notice of any kind. You are at all times responsible for reading and understanding each version of this Agreement and the Policies. YOUR CONTINUED USE OF THE SITE FOLLOWING AMAZON MECHANICAL TURK'S POSTING OF ANY CHANGES WILL CONSTITUTE YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF SUCH CHANGES. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO ANY CHANGES TO THIS AGREEMENT (INCLUDING TO ANY OF THE POLICIES INCORPORATED HEREIN), DO NOT CONTINUE TO USE THE SITE.
1.         Registration.
a.         Registration. When you register with the Site, you will be asked to provide us with, at a minimum, your name, a valid email address, your phone number, and your physical address. Providers may also be asked to provide certain tax information at registration or afterwards You agree to provide us with true and accurate information, and to update that information to the extent it changes in any way. When registering or updating your information, you will not impersonate any person or use a name that you are not legally authorized to use.
You may register with the Site either by (i) using your existing Amazon Account or (ii) creating a new Amazon Account. If you do not have an existing Amazon Account at the time you register with the Site, an Amazon Account on the Amazon.com website located at http://www.amazon.com (hereinafter, "Amazon.com") will be automatically and concurrently established in your name with the same e-mail address and password you provide to us. Amazon Accounts used in conjunction with the Site are governed by the Conditions of Use and Privacy Notice applicable to Amazon.com, as well as the Amazon Mechanical Turk Privacy Notice. You may not use multiple Amazon Accounts to register with Mechanical Turk.Your Amazon Account username must not suggest affiliation with Amazon, Amazon Mechanical Turk, or any third party unless that third party specifically gave you permission to do so.
b.         Passwords and Account Use. You are solely responsible for maintaining the secrecy and security of your password. You may not disclose your password to any third party (other than third parties authorized by you to use your account) and are solely responsible for any use of or action taken under your password on the Site. If your password is compromised, you must change your password. You may not permit any other person to perform Services as Provider using your Amazon Account. Additionally, if you are using the Site as a Provider, you may not use different Amazon Accounts to perform Services.
2.         Amazon Mechanical Turk's Role. Amazon Mechanical Turk provides a venue for third-party Requesters and third-party Providers to enter into and complete transactions. Amazon Mechanical Turk and its Affiliates are not involved in the transactions between Requesters and Providers. As a result, we have no control over the quality, safety or legality of the Services, the ability of Providers to provide the Services to Requesters' satisfaction, or the ability of Requesters to pay for Services. We are not responsible for the actions of any Requester or Provider. We do not conduct any screening or other verification with respect to Requesters or Providers, nor do we provide any recommendations. As a Requester or a Provider, you use the Site at your own risk.
3.         Your Use of the Site.
a.         Requesters in General. Upon completion of Services to Requesters' reasonable satisfaction, Requesters must pay Providers for their Services. As a Requester, you agree that upon your approval of the Services performed by a Provider, payment will be remitted to the Provider automatically (as described in Section 4 below). After you have approved the applicable Services, you are not entitled to any refund of your payment for such Services. If a Requester is not reasonably satisfied with the Services, the Requester may reject the Services. As a Requester, you will be charged a fee for your use of Amazon Mechanical Turk in connection with each request for Services. Please review the applicable Amazon Mechanical Turk Fees contained in the Policies for all applicable fees associated with your use of the Site pursuant to this Agreement. All fees are in U.S. dollars unless stated otherwise. The Amazon Mechanical Turk Fees may vary in the future. You agree to pay the amounts set forth in the Amazon Mechanical Turk Fees from time to time on the terms set forth herein and therein, and to check the fees and terms each time you use the Site. You acknowledge that, while Providers are agreeing to perform Services for you as independent contractors and not employees, repeated and frequent performance of Services by the same Provider on your behalf could result in reclassification of that employment status. If you have any questions about your obligations to comply with local laws and regulations pursuant to Section 6, you should seek independent legal advice. To the extent you receive any contact or personal information regarding any Provider who has performed Services for you, such information may only be used as necessary for you to comply with applicable laws and for no other purpose whatsoever. Further, you agree that you will only accept work product from Providers that has been submitted through the Site.
b.         Providers in General. You may only register once with Mechanical Turk as a Provider. Providers may perform Services for any Requester in accordance with the specifications submitted by the Requester. However, if the Services do not meet the Requester's reasonable satisfaction, the Requester may reject the Services and repost the specific request. As a Provider, the Requester for whom you provide Services is your client, and as such, you agree that the work product of any Services you perform is deemed a "work made for hire" for the benefit of the Requester, and all ownership rights, including worldwide intellectual property rights, will vest with the Requester immediately upon your performance of the Service. To the extent any such rights do not vest in Requester under applicable law, you hereby assign or exclusively grant (without the right to any compensation) all right, title and interest, including all intellectual property rights, to such work product to Requester. As a Provider you are performing Services for a Requester in your personal capacity as an independent contractor and not as an employee of the Requester. You specifically acknowledge and agree to the following: (i) you will not use robots, scripts or other automated methods to complete the Services; (ii) you will submit all work product through the Site only, and not directly to a Requester; (iii) you will provide Requesters for whom you perform Services with any information reasonably requested by them in connection your performance of such Services; (iv) you are responsible for, and have and will, comply with all applicable laws and registration requirements, including those applicable to independent contractors and maximum working hours regulations; (v) this Agreement does not create an association, joint venture, partnership or franchise, employer/employee relationship between Providers and Requesters, or Providers and Amazon Mechanical Turk; (vi) you will not represent yourself as an employee or agent of a Requester or Amazon Mechanical Turk; (vii) you will not be entitled to any of the benefits that a Requester or Amazon Mechanical Turk may make available to its employees, such as vacation pay, sick leave, insurance programs, including group health insurance or retirement benefits; and (viii) you are not eligible to recover worker's compensation benefits in the event of injury. If you have any questions about your obligations to comply with local laws and regulations pursuant to Section 5, you should seek independent legal advice.
c.         Listing and Promotions Generally. As a Requester or Provider, you may not sell, offer for sale, request, purchase, or provide any Service that violates applicable law or is prohibited by the Policies. Notwithstanding any provision of this Agreement, Amazon Mechanical Turk will have the right, in its sole discretion, to determine the content, appearance, design, functionality and all other aspects of the Site (including the right to re-design, modify, remove and alter the content, appearance, design, navigation, functionality, and other aspects of the Site and/or any page thereof and any element, aspect, portion or feature thereof, from time to time).
d.         Information and Feedback. You must supply accurate and complete information for all Services in accordance with our data requirements, as may be designated by us from time to time, including in the Policies. You recognize and agree that Amazon Mechanical Turk will implement mechanisms allowing us and others to track your requests for, or your performance of, Services and rate your performance as a Requester or Provider, and Amazon Mechanical Turk reserves the right to collect feedback regarding your performance and to post such feedback on the Site. You may not take any actions that may undermine the integrity of the feedback system. You agree that submission of any information, feedback, content, data or other materials (collectively, "Materials") is at your own risk, and that none of Amazon Mechanical Turk, its Affiliates, Requesters or Providers has any obligations (including without limitation obligations of confidentiality) with respect to such Materials. You represent and warrant that you have all rights necessary to submit the Materials. You hereby grant to Amazon Mechanical Turk and its Affiliates a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, perform, display, distribute, adapt, modify, re-format, create derivative works of, and otherwise commercially or non-commercially exploit in any manner, any and all Materials, and to sublicense the foregoing rights, in connection with the operation and maintenance of the Site. For avoidance of doubt, if you are a Requester, if you create any tests, specifications, criteria lists or other programs for use on the Site to evaluate or otherwise select Providers they will be considered Materials for purposes of this Agreement and may be used and/or referenced by us or other Requesters and Providers pursuant to the license granted above.
e.         Customer Service. Amazon Mechanical Turk will be responsible for and will have sole discretion regarding all customer service issues relating to use of the Site and its features.
f.         Disputes between Requesters and Providers. Your use of the Site is at your own risk. Because Amazon Mechanical Turk is not involved in the actual transaction between Providers and Requesters, Amazon Mechanical Turk will not be involved in resolving any disputes between participants related to or arising out of the Services or any transaction.
4.         Payment Service. Amazon Mechanical Turk or its Affiliates will process all payments made by Requesters to Providers (the "Payment Service"). Requester payments made through the Payment Service are received by Amazon Mechanical Turk or its Affiliates on behalf of Providers, and may be disbursed only in accordance with the terms outlined below.
a.         Prepaid HITs. Each Requester must prepay for work they intend on acquiring through the Services by purchasing Mechanical Turk Prepaid HITs ("Prepaid HITs") from Amazon Payments, Inc. Prepaid HITs are subject to the Mechanical Turk Prepaid HITs Terms and Conditions. Prepaid HITs are maintained in a single Prepaid HIT account for you solely for use of the Services. The amount of Prepaid HITs purchased must be at least equal to the total amount that will be owed to Providers upon completion and acceptance of the Services and any amounts payable to Amazon Mechanical Turk in connection with Requester's use of the Site. If the Prepaid HITs are purchased with proceeds from a bank account, the Prepaid HITs may not be available for use for up to four (4) days before such funds are available for disbursement to a Provider's Payment Account (defined below). After Requester's acceptance of the Services, the Payment Service will debit the amount owed to each Provider from the Requester's Payment Account, and credit each Provider's Payment Account that amount.
b.         Disbursement of Funds to Providers. When Providers register with the Site, a payment account ("Payment Account") will automatically be established in conjunction with their registration. Providers may disburse funds from their Payment Account by the following methods, at their option: (i) to an ACH-Enabled Bank Account in U.S. dollars; (ii) or by converting such funds to a credit that is held for the benefit of Provider in an Amazon.com gift certificate account. For select countries, Amazon Mechanical Turk may enable Providers to request disbursements through physical checks in U.S. or local currency. Check disbursements may be subject to additional fees, registration and documentary requirements. See our FAQs for more information. Funds will only be disbursed in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including without limitation the United States Patriot Act and the regulations of the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Providers may not share a bank account. We reserve the right to cancel your Payment Account for any reason.
c.         Authorizations for ACH-Enabled Bank Account. If you are a Provider, you hereby authorize Amazon Mechanical Turk and its Affiliates, and any third party service providers or agents acting on their behalf, to debit or credit your ACH-Enabled Bank Account (including by creating a paper draft or an electronic funds transfer) and/or your Payment Account, as applicable, (i) to transfer, disburse or process other payment transactions associated with the Services; and (ii) to settle payment for any fees that may be charged under this Agreement. In the event there is an error in the processing of any transaction described above, you authorize us to initiate debit or credit entries to your ACH-Enabled Bank Account or your Payment Account, as applicable, to correct such error, provided that any such correction is made in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, and to make any inquiries we consider necessary to validate the error, which may include ordering a credit report, performing credit checks, or verifying the information you provide against third party databases. If we are unable to debit any ACH-Enabled Bank Account you select for any reason, you authorize us to resubmit the debit, plus any applicable fees, to any other ACH-Enabled Bank Account you have on file with us (or, in the case of any fees that are owed under this Agreement, to deduct such amounts from the funds in your Payment Account). Your authorizations will remain in full force and effect until we receive written notification from you of any termination. Any termination will become effective as soon as we have had a reasonable amount of time to act on it, but in any event not later than thirty (30) days after written notice of termination is received by us in accordance with Section 12(e).
d.         Restrictions and Limitations. We reserve the right to terminate or suspend any Payment Account, or to delay the availability of any Prepaid HITs, transfer or disbursement of any amounts, in each case for any reason in our sole discretion, including, without limitation, if we believe that a Requester or Provider is in violation of this Agreement. As a security measure, we reserve the right to restrict the transfer to Providers of any amounts held in a Requester's Prepaid HIT account for up to three (3) Business Days (as defined below) following any purchase. Other than a credit to a Provider's Payment Account for Services rendered by such Provider, amounts held in Payment Accounts cannot be transferred to other Requesters or Providers. If Amazon Mechanical Turk terminates this Agreement because you have violated the Policies then (i) any Services that have been completed by Providers but not yet accepted by you will be deemed accepted and the applicable payments will be remitted to the Providers and deducted from your Prepaid HITS balance and (ii) your remaining Prepaid HITS balance (if any) will become the property of Amazon Mechanical Turk.
e.         Our Liability. We (and our Affiliates) act only in the capacity of a payment processor in facilitating the transactions between Requesters and Providers, and are not otherwise involved in the actual transactions. We will only be responsible for initiating purchases of Prepaid HITs and the transfers or disbursements at the direction of Requesters and Providers. We will be entitled to rely on the instructions of Requesters and Providers without any further inquiry or liability whatsoever. We will not be liable if we are not able to complete a transaction for any reason, including, but not limited to,
  • If any system or equipment was not working properly and you knew or had been advised about the breakdown before you initiated the transaction;
  • If you do not have enough available funds in your Prepaid HIT account or in your Payment Account to complete the applicable transaction, or if the transfer would cause you to exceed any applicable transfer limit with respect to your ACH-Enabled Bank Account;
  • If circumstances beyond our control (such as, but not limited to, power outages, fire, flood, mechanical or systems failure) prevent the proper execution of the transaction, despite reasonable precautions we have taken;
  • If your transaction is intercepted by legal process or other encumbrances restricting transfer, or your participation in the Site has been terminated or suspended for security purposes;
  • If we are unable to confirm your identity or have reason to believe that the transfer requested is unauthorized; or
  • If you have not provided us with correct, current and complete payment information.
f.         Statements and Account Balances. We will send an e-mail confirmation to you after you purchase any Prepaid HITs, make payments to a Provider or other payment transaction occurs with respect to a Payment Account. In addition, you may access your transaction information (your "Activity History") online in the "Your Account," and "View Transaction History" (or equivalent) areas of the Site. You may access this feature only with a browser that is compatible with the Service, including any security features that are part of the Service. Interest will not be paid on Prepaid HITs or any amounts held in Payment Accounts. If no transfer, disbursement or other payment transaction occurs with respect to your Payment Account for at least two (2) years and six (6) months, consecutively, the balance in your Payment Account will be automatically converted into an Amazon.com gift certificate and sent electronically to your then-current e-mail address associated with your Payment Account.
g.         Transaction Errors. If you believe that any payment transaction initiated by us (or our agent) is erroneous, or if you need more information about any such transaction, you should contact us as soon as possible.
5.         Compliance with Laws.
a.         Taxes. You agree that it is your responsibility to determine any and all taxes and duties, including without limitation, sales, use, transfer, value added, withholding and other taxes and/or duties assessed, incurred or required to be collected, paid or withheld for any reason in connection with any request for, or performance of Services, or your use of the Site, or otherwise in connection with any action, inaction or omission of you or any of affiliate of yours, or any of your or their respective employees, agents, contractors or representatives ("Taxes") and to collect, withhold, report, and remit correct taxes to the appropriate tax authority, and to otherwise be responsible for the collection and payment of any and all Taxes. YOU ALSO AGREE THAT AMAZON MECHANICAL TURK AND ITS AFFILIATES ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO DETERMINE WHETHER TAXES APPLY AND ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE TO COLLECT, REPORT, OR REMIT ANY TAXES ARISING FROM ANY TRANSACTION.
b.         Registrations. You agree that is your responsibility to determine whether and to what extent any permits, registrations, authorization or filings (including without limitation with respect to the transfer of technology) are required by any governmental agency in any jurisdiction in which you have requested or are performing Services ("Permits"). YOU ALSO AGREE THAT AMAZON MECHANICAL TURK AND ITS AFFILIATES ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO DETERMINE WHETHER ANY SUCH PERMITS APPLY TO ANY TRANSACTION.
c.         Compliance with Laws; The Site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a lawful manner. You may not use the Site in any manner that violates any applicable law or governmental regulation. In addition to your obligations with respect to Taxes and Permits above, you agree to comply with all applicable laws, statutes, and regulations of any jurisdiction in which you request or perform Services.
d.         Investigation. Amazon Mechanical Turk has the right, but not the obligation, to monitor any activity, content and Materials associated with the Site. Amazon Mechanical Turk may investigate any reported violation of its Policies or complaints and take any action that it deems appropriate.
6.         Disclosure of Information; Confidentiality; Privacy.
a.         Our Use of Data and Communications. Our Privacy Notice and this Agreement describe our collection, use, and disclosure of information associated with the Site, including how we handle personal information. In addition to the disclosures described in our Privacy Notice, we will disclose to Requesters your name, address, data on HITs you have completed, and Provider Tax Information. "Provider Tax Information" means tax identification information of Providers, such as a Social Security Number or Employer Identification Number. Requesters use Provider Tax Information to fill out an IRS Form 1099 and send it to Providers. If you are a Requester and want Provider Tax Information from us to complete IRS Form 1099s for Providers you have paid, you must provide us with your company name and employer identification number ("Requester Tax Information"). You hereby consent to disclosure of Provider Tax Information, Requester Tax Information, and other data as described in this Section 6 and our Privacy Notice.
b.         Your Use of Data and Communications. You may use information or other data acquired from your use of the Site solely to the extent necessary for you to use the Site and for no other purpose, including but not limited to, for purposes of solicitation, advertising, marketing, unsolicited e-mail or spamming, harassment, invasion of privacy, or otherwise objectionable conduct. Requesters may use Provider Tax Information solely to the extent necessary to comply with IRS reporting obligations.
c.         Press Releases and Public Disclosures. You may generally publicize your use of the Site, however you may not issue any press release with respect to Amazon Mechanical Turk or the Site, without Amazon Mechanical Turk's express prior written consent.
9.         Indemnity; Limitation of Liability.
a.         Indemnity and Defense. You will indemnify and hold harmless Amazon Mechanical Turk and its Affiliates (and their respective employees, directors, agents and representatives) from and against any and all claims, costs, losses, damages, judgments, penalties, interest and expenses (including reasonable attorneys' fees) arising out of any claim, action, audit, investigation, inquiry or other proceeding instituted by a person or entity ("Claim") that arises out of or relates to: (i) any actual or alleged breach of your representations, warranties, or obligations set forth in this Agreement; (ii) your Services and any Materials, including any actual or alleged infringement of any intellectual property or proprietary rights by any of your Services or Materials; and/or (iii) your failure to comply with any applicable laws and regulations in connection with your use of the Site.
10.         Applicable Law; Arbitration. The Site is arranged, sponsored, and managed by Amazon Mechanical Turk in the state of Washington, USA. The laws of the state of Washington govern this Agreement and all of its terms and conditions, without giving effect to any principles of conflicts of laws. You agree that any action at law or in equity arising out of or relating to these terms and conditions shall be submitted to confidential arbitration in Seattle, Washington, except that, to the extent you have in any manner violated or threatened to violate Amazon Mechanical Turk's intellectual property rights, Amazon Mechanical Turk may seek injunctive or other appropriate relief in any state or federal court in the state of Washington, and you consent to exclusive jurisdiction and venue in such courts. Arbitration under this agreement shall be conducted under the rules then prevailing of the American Arbitration Association. The arbitrator's award shall be binding and may be entered as a judgment in any court of competent jurisdiction. To the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, no arbitration under this Agreement shall be joined to an arbitration involving any other party subject to this Agreement, whether through class arbitration proceedings or otherwise.
11.         Termination. You may at any time elect to stop using the Site, provided that in discontinuing any Site activities, you must use Amazon Mechanical Turk's standard functionality and further must abide by all applicable Amazon Mechanical Turk Policies, Procedures and Guidelines. Amazon Mechanical Turk, in its sole discretion, may terminate this Agreement, suspend access to the Site, or remove any Service listings immediately without notice for any reason.
12.         General Provisions
a.         Entire Agreement. This Agreement and the general terms and conditions of the Site, including the Policies, constitute the entire agreement of the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof, and supersede and cancel all prior and contemporaneous agreements, claims, representations, and understandings of the parties in connection with the subject matter hereof.
b.         Assignment. You may not assign this Agreement without our prior written consent. We may assign this Agreement at any time, without notice. Subject to the foregoing, this Agreement will be binding on each party's successors and permitted assigns.
c.         Severability. If any provision of this Agreement shall be deemed unlawful, void, or for any reason unenforceable, then that provision shall be deemed severable from these terms and conditions and shall not affect the validity and enforceability of any remaining provisions.
d.         No Waiver. We will not be considered to have waived any of our rights or remedies, or portion thereof, unless the waiver is in writing and signed by us. Amazon Mechanical Turk's failure to enforce the strict performance of any provision of this Agreement will not constitute a waiver of Amazon Mechanical Turk's right to subsequently enforce such provision or any other provisions of this Agreement.
e.         Notices. All notices relating to this Agreement (including the Payment Service) will be sent by e-mail or will be posted on the Site. We will send notices to you at the e-mail address maintained in our records for you. You must send notices to us at our current e-mail address published on the Site. E-mail notices are deemed written notices for all purposes for which written notices may be required. E-mail notices are deemed received the business day after transmission if properly addressed to the intended recipient.  link
Oh, none of that made any sense and wasn't helpful at all?  Good luck!

Tale of the forfeited earnings: part deux

Earlier I mentioned that suspended workers not only lose access to the site but also lose the earnings they haven't withdrawn.  It sucks:
Suspended Account

I am working in Mturk from March 2010 onwards.
However my account got suspended few days back.
During this period I completed around 9000 Hit with 97% acceptance.
I made around $500 during this period.
I received only $200 out of these.
Rest of the money has been forfeited by them.
Can someone please help me in reopening the suspension?
location:-India  link

A requester apologizes

Sometime in October, a number of very experienced Turkers started getting blocks out of nowhere.  Some of them found their accounts suddenly closed.  They had no idea why.  Here's why:
We want to let everyone know that we are extremely sorry about the mass blocking - we did not realize that blocking you had permanent effects on your records as workers, and we are very sorry if we caused problems to your account.

We have unblocked everybody, and we have contacted Amazon asking that the blocking incident be removed from your records. We will do everything we can to make sure this is done and that your accounts will not be in danger due to our blocking.

We will never use blocks in the future, and again only did so now because we did not realize the negative effects. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do...  link
This kind of thing happens all the time on Mechanical Turk.  Sometimes the problem is figured out.  Sometimes the requester fixes it.  Sometimes they don't.  When things fall through the crack, it land on Turkers, and it's not money that lands on their heads.

Say What?

This site has collected a variety of small tragedies and injustices, but at least the people got to walk away with half of their dignity and their money, right?  Right...?
I had been working at mTurk since Jan 2009 and within a month had built up an impression that at last have got a genuine site to work for earning some money.

However, they according to me are the biggest scamsters, even worse than the PPC site owners. mTurk can suspend your account any moment and forfeit all your money without even bothering to give proper justification. Simply, they will state that due to violation of their TOS, the account is suspended and all earnings are forfeited. If you claim the money earned prior to suspension, they will say that they can’t do any more business with people whose accounts are suspended.  link
That's right.  If you are suspended for a violation of the terms of service, you can not only be permanently banned from the site, but you forfeit all of your earnings.  Yes.  No, I'm not kidding.  Yeah, even the ones you earned fairly.  Uh-huh.  Those.  The pending HITs too?  Yep.  And the bonuses for my great work?  All of it.  

And who decides when the TOS has been violated?  Oh, Amazon does.  And will they tell you what your violation was?  Nope.  Proprietary, company secrets, can't reveal the goods.  "Thank you for trying Amazon's Mechanical Turk."

Um, you're not welcome...?

Confusion + Intolerance - Transparency = Mechanical Turk?

Something I've wanted to emphasize is that while very few of MTurk's problems are deal breakers in and of themselves, as a whole they make for an unruly and un-user-friendly mix. Here's why:

  • You start out and don't quite know the ropes.  You make a few mistakes.  BAM, one block.
  • You're not told when you get blocked, so you keep going thinking everything's ok.  BAM two blocks.
  • Now you've wised up some and learned to communicate with requesters.  You contact the past block and get it removed.  Kinda.  It's still on your record, but it's not supposed to count.
  • You inadvertently run into a scammer who blocks the whole batch.  Three blocks.  Account suspended.  
  • You email Amazon.  They tell you it's between you and the requesters.
  • You explain that you don't have 3 blocks.  They say, oh, ok, one of your blocks was corrected.  
  • Three days later, you can get back into your account.  You still have three blocks.
  • Next weekend you are feeling focused and do 800 HITs from three different requesters.  You pay attention and do good work.  But Monday morning your account is blocked, suspended, closed, permanently.
  • This time Amazon wants letters directly from the requesters.  But you don't know who blocked you.  You email each one.  Turns out, one had a computer glitch, the other didn't want you to do any more of his HITs but had nothing against your work, and the last one isn't returning emails and apparently blocked a whole group of people for no apparent reason.  Guess what?  Bye-bye Mechanical Turk.
  • Ok, so your account is finished, all of your reputation rating vanishes, your qualifying HITs and permissions vanish.  At least you can start over and try again, right?
  • Wrong!  One account per Turker, forever!!  In a system as confusing, muddled, frustrating, bone-headed, irreconcilable, maddening, not-user-friendly, un-Amazon, un-customer-service, you get ONE SHOT, and then you're gone for good.
It's not quite death by a thousand cuts but it's close.  Jeff?  You said you wanted to be the flagship customer service company in the world.  We are the consumers of your brand, your technology, your policies, and your support services.  This is not living up to your mission.

I feel like I've heard this before...

This post to MTurkforum.com sounded oddly familiar:
I've been diligently working on tasks the past week and have successfully completed over 1000 hits, and today while I was writing an article, I went to click submit and it said my account has been suspended? To my knowledge I've done nothing wrong and done every hit I've submitted properly... can anyone tell me possibly why and how to go about getting it un-suspended?  link

Fears of a Turker

In reference to one of the horror stories, a Turker left these worried thoughts on TurkerNation.com:
I really don't know what to say. Your current nightmare is one I might be experiencing soon given the recent hard block Amazon Requester placed on me out of nowhere.

With the economy what it is, I know that many of us have been reduced to working for a quarter or a third of minimum wage. These random blockings and suspensions are kicks in the gut of people already down. Do they realize they might be taking away one of the few remaining source of income for some workers? We are not asking for pity, just basic fairness. If you are going to take away someone's right to work, you should tell them why and give them opportunity to defend that right.

I don't know if it will help but maybe if you contact other requesters who liked your work and asked them to contact Amazon on your behalf, that might help.

Many of these recent blocks came from requesters with no or little bad history so workers had no reason to avoid them.

Good luck to you.  link

Methinks thou doth profit too much?

Of all the reasons to get canned, hyperproductivity seems the most cruel.  From MTurkforum.com:
I'm a new turker, but knew something about it because my daughter is a turker.I did about 2,000 hits in a week, 99% approval rating, they suspended me without ANY contact from them, I've written them 3 times. Only answer is automated email. After reading this forum, i'm thinking that my number of hits led them to believe that i was using a robot or something. What a ripoff, with no way to resolve, complain or have any recourse. Worse than a slave. Hope you have better luck, but beware.  link

Beware the block (Part 3)

This is the last and most tragic in a 3-part series from MTurkforums.com.  You know what's going to happen, but you can't stop yourself from looking anyway:

Yep. Apparently if you get blocked twice, Amazon may remove your account. While in most cases, the accounts being blocked are cheaters and bots, there's always a possibility you could be blocked by mistake. And if you don't get your first block removed, and get blocked again, then Amazon may ban you from Mechanical Turk completely. If you don't appeal, or they ignore you, then any money in your account will be gone.

...even honest workers are afraid to work for requesters who have a history of blocking. And, unfortunately, they should be until Amazon decides to take worker concerns more seriously.
And the end of the essay is so on point I'm just going to let him say it all (emphasis mine):
If you've gotten this far, you deserve a medal for your patience and stamina. You've also shown yourself to be someone who cares about worker rights. Even if you haven't been personally affected by the blocking system (yet), I encourage you to send Feedback to Amazon and let them know you are concerned about issues like these which have the potential to hurt honest people -- not only workers, but even the requesters whose money makes MTurk possible. Feel free to send Amazon a link to this series if you'd like.

You can also make a difference by joining in the global conversation about MTurk in fine places like this. You don't have to write long-winded treatises like I do, because even a small note here has the potential to help many others. Perhaps the words we write now will influence for the better the way Amazon chooses to operate in the future. MTurk is still a diamond in the rough, but with some refinement has the potential to be truly great.