Amazon Mechanical Turk Workers Are Vastly Underpaid, Study Finds

Are you interested in padding your bank account with a side hustle? You may have heard you can earn extra cash through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) program operates on the belief that in a world of artificial intelligence, there is still a need for human beings because there are tasks that machine learning cannot complete. But...

Are you interested in padding your bank account with a side hustle? You may have heard you can earn extra cash through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program.

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) program operates on the belief that in a world of artificial intelligence, there is still a need for human beings because there are tasks that machine learning cannot complete.

But the data shows that these human beings aren’t being paid much to work for MTurk. In this article, we give a complete breakdown of the Amazon Mechanical Turk program, with exact wage numbers included, so that you can determine if it’s worth your time.

What Is Amazon Mechanical Turk?

According to a company job post, “Amazon Mechanical Turk is a crowdsourcing marketplace that enables individuals or businesses to use human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do.” Mechanical Turk falls under the umbrella of Amazon Web Services.

The company’s website further clarifies that this crowdsourcing marketplace “makes it easier for individuals and businesses to outsource their processes and jobs to a distributed workforce who can perform these tasks virtually.”

Thus, the MTurk Platform acts as a middleman, connecting businesses (Requesters) with workers (Turkers) who are willing to complete these human intelligence tasks. The types of simple tasks that MTurk workers complete on the crowdsourcing platform include:

  • Data collection, validation, and clean-up
  • Data processing
  • Data entry
  • Transcribing
  • Image and video processing
  • Social media research
  • Content moderation
  • Survey participation

The company website elaborates that in the past, businesses would have to hire a large temporary workforce to complete these tasks. Hiring such a workforce was not only time consuming, but it was also expensive and difficult to scale as well.

The site says, “Crowdsourcing is a good way to break down a manual, time-consuming project into smaller, more manageable tasks to be completed by distributed workers over the Internet (also known as ‘microtasks’).”

How Does Mechanical Turk Work?

Amazon Mechanical Turk: a woman works from a comfortable chair

As a Mechanical Turk worker, you’ll have access to the “HITs” page. HITs stands for “Human Intelligence Tasks.” Requesters post tasks to the HITs page. When doing so, the Requester determines how long they would like for you to work on the project and how much they are willing to pay.

Once Turkers have completed a project, they will submit it for review. Requesters then have 30 days to approve your work and pay you. As we’ve mentioned, Amazon Mechanical Turk acts as a middleman. The company is not responsible for reviewing, accepting, or rejecting any work that Turkers submit. The review and acceptance portions are left entirely up to the discretion of the Requester.

Amazon limits workers so that they can only complete a certain number of tasks in a day. While MTurk does not specify precisely how many jobs you can do in a day, as it depends on the size of each project that you do, the company ensures that you are the only individual completing the assignments. MTurk does not allow you to take on so many tasks that you would need to use scripts, robots, or other automated methods to complete them.

There are three different types of “Turker” levels available. There is the default introductory level, which every worker starts at when they begin working on the site.

Turkers could then graduate to Master Worker. Master Workers “have consistently demonstrated a high degree of success in performing a wide range of HITs across a large number of Requesters.” MTurk says that it factors many criteria into this decision, including producing high-quality results, performing a variety of tasks, and being employed for an extended amount of time. It’s possible for Amazon to revoke Master Worker status.

Whereas you need to graduate to Master Worker, you could apply to receive a Premium Qualification. With a Premium Qualification, you gain preferred access to work that better suits your schedule and work experience.

How Do Payments Work?

Once you’ve completed a task, and the Requester approves it, the money you earned will appear on your Dashboard. You must be active for at least 10 days after you submit your first HIT to receive your first payment. Turkers can only make one transfer of earnings per day.

American Turkers can transfer money to their Amazon Payments account, where they can then send it to their bank account. They could also elect to receive a gift card to Amazon.com. Workers not in the United States can’t transfer money to Amazon Payments, although they could still receive funds via Amazon gift cards. Additionally, international workers can choose to send their funds to a United States bank account. They must set up this account through a service like Hyperwallet.

Unfortunately, one of the downsides to MTurk is the low pay. One study found that it’s nearly impossible to earn a minimum wage as a Turker. An analysis of almost 2,700 workers found that the median was $2 per hour and that only 4% of workers earned an hourly wage above $7.25 per hour.

MTurk is attractive to Requesters because of the low cost. Requesters set the price for a complete task. They set the price point low, knowing that someone will likely accept it. Requesters can offer a bonus as well. But, even if you were to earn a bonus, your hourly wage would still likely be substandard.

It’s also worth mentioning that as a Turker, you’re an independent contractor, not an employee. This means that you are responsible for paying the entirety of the tax burden, which amounts to 15.3%. You can deduct business-related expenses, such as the cost of your Internet, from your earnings.

Getting Started With Mechanical Turk

Amazon Mechanical Turk: the webpage to get started

The process of getting started with MTurk is rather simple. All you have to do is go to the Amazon MTurk website and click “Sign In as a Worker.” There, you’ll need to provide your name, email address, and password. If you already have an Amazon account, you just need to select “Sign In.”

After you’ve created your account or signed in, you must complete the Amazon Mechanical Turk Participation Agreement. The company will then ask whether you are working in the United States and, if not, which country you’re working from.

After you’ve registered, you’ll have access to your HITs page. Your HITs page will provide you with a list of the tasks that you’re qualified to work on. You can browse the list of tasks and find one that you’d like to complete. Then, click “Accept & Work” on the job that you’d like to complete. Once you’ve completed the HIT, click the “Submit HIT” button.

To receive payments, you’ll need to create an account with Amazon Payments. This service allows you to send funds directly to your bank account. When doing so, American workers will need to provide valid taxpayer identification using their Social Security number.

Those not based in the United States are also required to provide tax information. This information helps MTurk determine non-U.S. status and whether the worker’s earnings are subject to IRS reporting.

It’s also important to note that citizens of the United States living in a foreign country are not permitted to work for MTurk. You must either be a U.S. citizen residing in the United States or a non-U.S. citizen living anywhere in the world.

Is Mechanical Turk Right for You?

Amazon Mechanical Turk: a key board and mouse on a home office desk

Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, Amazon Mechanical Turk is probably not for you. Workers end up putting in too much time for too little in return. This article from The Atlantic discusses how one short task, which was supposed to take 45 minutes, paid a mere 80 cents.

If you’re looking for a way to boost your freelancing resume or to pass the time, then you could maybe consider part-time work with MTurk. We’ve even gathered some tricks and tips that you could implement to help maximize your earnings. But experienced freelancers will want to pass on MTurk in lieu of other more lucrative job opportunities.

Alternatives to Mechanical Turk

Working remotely from home and finding a work-life balance shouldn’t come at the expense of low pay. You should never settle for less than you’re worth — which, unfortunately, MTurk encourages you to do. If you’re looking for a full-time remote job that pays well, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide to freelancing in the gig economy.
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