If you have an interest in engaging in process oriented discussion [not political activism] on this topic as it relates to public accounting, please reach out and let me know.
I wrote a blog post two days ago regarding the beginnings of the proliferation of crowdsourcing utilizing offshore labor beginning to reach the middle market and SMB space. I acknowledge the amazement I feel when I begin to grasp the potential of adding a capacity for human intelligence tasks [“HITS”] to a technology workflow. At the same time, I am deeply concerned over the set of issues that involve the use of human labor in the process.
I have done some digging, and found some great insight into the subject and think it is critical to introduce come of those issues.
- Dr. Utpal Dholakia wrote a piece entitled My Experience as an Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) Worker which appeared in Linkedin Pulse recently. His piece highlights
- MTurk workers do not earn much money and the site made it impossible to figure out how much I earned per hour of work I performed.
- Not all researchers posting surveys on MTurk are ethical. On MTurk, unethical actions play out in a number of different ways, some small, and others exploitative.
- Many studies are poorly designed and slow workers down.
- Answering surveys consecutively produces biased responses.
- The site is heavily loaded in favor of requesters and against workers
- He concludes:
I will also be more careful about what sort of studies I conduct on MTurk. Until my experience as a worker, the issue of potential biasing effects of completing a dozen studies one after the other on the quality of responses was not even on my radar screen. For me personally, MTurk data will be appropriate for initial pretests and exploratory research; but it is clear that I need less “professional” respondents who have not been primed with the same concept multiple times in one session to conduct rigorous and valid tests of my research hypotheses!
- An article that appeared last month in Buzzfeed News notes
Amazon is putting the ‘ow’ in crowd work with a change, announced on Monday, to its Mechanical Turk platform that has both workers and requesters — the people who post gigs — upset. Starting July 21, the company will double the commission it takes per digital gig (called Human Intelligence Tasks or HITs) from 10% to 20%, charging an additional 20% on top of that for larger-batch HITs that include 10 or more assignments.
- A piece in the New York Times concluded
Workers relying on such low wages and unstable employment are not likely to be able to educate their children enough to escape increasingly high rates of unemployment. A sustainable form of crowdsourcing will require forms of collective governance that mitigate the effects of market competition on those treated as mere links in a chain of algorithmic logic. In other words, it will require some assurance of human rights, including access to decent employment, living wages and high-quality public education.
- Then Forbes gives us On the New York Times Stupidity Over Amazon’s Mechanical Turk where the author chimes in with
So a world without the minimum wage would have more people employed at pay rates that they’re happy to earn. Quite how we are to use this evidence in support of the minimum wage I’m not sure. But that is what the NYT writer attempts to do and this is an example of that thing which so continually amazes me. She has all her facts lined up and they’re quite correct. Yet she’s then managed to leap to entirely the wrong conclusion. All her evidence is about how the minimum wage increases unemployment. Yet she uses this evidence to proclaim the importance of said minimum wage.
It has rapidly become clear that an issue which I wouldn’t have given a second thought to a week ago has an incredible amount of complexity to it. It’s a topic that I feel a tremendous need to learn more about and continue to study, not only in the context of HITS, but in its application to the entire process of seeking to move tasks involving human labor offshore and the entire world of virtual bookkeeping and virtual back office continues to expand.
Its an example where I look forward to learning more from experts like Scott Linden Jones whom I had the privilege of meeting in a Xero Linkedin Discussion group this week. There will be more to follow, but its the beginning of an effort to take the lessons that thirty five years in public accounting, including time as a Tax Partner with Arthur Andersen permit me to share some insights into public accounting practice that is certainly in a period of rapid flux, but contrary to the popular refrain, is not well understood by the millennial technology oracles that have popped up like noxious weeds explaining how they are disrupting public accounting and quickly obsoleting all of us boomers. It helps to prove my long held theory that “what passes for wisdom just might be accumulated stupidity.”
By the way, I received this email two days after signing up for Amazon Mechanical Turk….never being contacted by anyone doing due diligence which leads me to conclude that there is serious vetting and anyone can sign up and potentially exploit these workers.
Greetings from Amazon Mechanical Turk,
Congratulations, your Mechanical Turk account has been approved.
Please follow this link to complete the registration process.
Here’s some important information about working on Mechanical Turk.
1) Requesters approve or reject your work within 30 days.
Requesters determine whether to pay you within 30 days of submitting
your HITs. Amazon Mechanical Turk does not determine when to approve
or reject and does not estimate when your HITs will be approved. In
the event you have questions about the content of a HIT or the approval
status you can contact the Requester directly:
2) Your work quality is important.
Completing HITs accurately will ensure that Requesters will want you to
continue to work for them. Read instructions thoroughly, answer HITs
accurately, and return HITs you are unable to complete correctly, to
build a positive reputation as a Worker. Keep in mind that returned or
abandoned HITs will not affect your rating.
3) Report HITs that violate the Mechanical Turk policies:
You should not provide personal information in the HIT or register for
another website while working HITs on Mechanical Turk. Please report
any violating HITs using the “violates Amazon Mechanical Turk policies”
link at the bottom right of the HIT. To see examples of HITs that
violate the policies, visit this link:
4) Keep your computer secure:
When you complete HITs on Mechanical Turk, you are accessing the
internet to perform work for Requesters that are not Amazon. We
recommend that you secure your computer with the latest operating
system security updates and virus protection software, update your
browser and plug-ins with the latest versions, and use caution when
directed to other websites or asked to download software.
5) Payment delays and daily HIT limit for new Workers:
For quality assurance purposes, new Workers can only complete a limited
number of HITs (Human Intelligent Tasks) each day. Payments from
Requesters are delayed for 10 days until you have submitted at least
one HIT a day for at least 10 days. Your payments will show the
“Approved Pending Payment” status in your dashboard during this delay
Additional information can be found within our FAQ,
We’re excited to have you join the Amazon Mechanical Turk Worker
Amazon Mechanical Turk