Using Amazon Mechanical Turk Mturk.com For Affiliate Spam

I’m a huge fan of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service where Amazon has created a platform that allows for simple contracting of web based work on a task by task basis. For those on you not familiar with the service, it allows people to upload work they’d like done that’s better done by humans than computers such as giving an opinion on something, deciding if a particular paragraph is offensive, of if an image happens to be pornographic. It turns out that a lot of people are willing to answer questions like this for pennies per question.

But not all assignments in mturk.com are legitimate. One common issue is Requesters (the people paying for the work) paying people to, essentially, spam online forms for a variety of reasons. I’ve broken down an example of this below.

Mturk Request for Link Click and Form Submission

In the above image, an mturk worker “Turk Requests” has set up a HIT that pays 20 cents for someone to visit a website, look for a specific ad on that website, click on it, then fill out a form on that site. They’re asking workers to look for this ad:

Screen shot 2010-03-21 at 4.34.03 PM

When they find it, they want people to click on it. But they’re not done at that point. Clicking on that ad takes people to this page:

RewardPort Online Reward Portal

But the point of this isn’t to get people to visit a website, to click on an ad, or to visit a second website. The point is to get people to fill out the form on the above website. If a worker completes the information on that page, receives a confirmation email from RewardPort, and pastes that information back into mturk.com, the worker will be paid a whopping 20 cents. If they could do this in, say, 3 minutes, they’d be able to do around 20 similar tasks an hour and gross $4.00/hr for their time.

You may be asking yourself, “Why is someone willing to pay people 20 cents to fill out an online form?” Good question. Here’s why:

RewardPort Online Rewards Affiliate Program

It turns out that RewardPort has an affiliate program where they’re willing to pay people $1.40 for each person who signs up for their program. If we look back at look at what mturk workers are paid for signing up for the service, we’ll see that it’s $0.20 cents. Amazon takes a 10% fee as well, so the cost to the Mturk.com requester is $0.22, so they’re pulling $1.18 for each Mturk.com worker they manage to convince to sign up with RewardPort.

In the end, I don’t know if this is good or bad for RewardPort. Are registrations from people who are being paid 20 cents to register through mturk.com worth it? Or, are they sophisticated mturk.com users who’ve figured out how to use throwaway email addresses for services like this, which allows them to cash in without having to deal with RewardPort’s offers?

I really don’t know. I just know that this type of use of Mturk.com is a lot different from the types of assignments I roll through the service on a regular basis. Mturk’s policies do suggest that the service shouldn’t be used for direct marketing. Getting people to sign up for marketing lists seems pretty direct to me.

Regardless, I think it’s an interesting new form of commerce where the rules are still being shaped into something that’s fair for everyone involved.

11 thoughts on “Using Amazon Mechanical Turk Mturk.com For Affiliate Spam”

  1. I too despise these spammers because they are the most of unfair requester’s. I often get these types of hits rejected and when they are reported to amazon as spam, amazon does nothing. they only care about their own pennies. I have reported every instance that I see on mturk and have even been the victom of identity theft due to these bogus hits not disclosing proper information about what is being signed up for. They leave the approval of the hits on the requester and they are often trying to get the money without having to pay out for the hit itself.

    Imagine that you just started doing mturk. You have a perfect rating. You do one of these hits (properly even) and it still gets rejected. This is the only hit you have done so far. When that rejection comes you are hit with a one hundred percent rejection rating because its the only one you’ve done so far. Now you cant do any more hits and there is even the possiblilty if not careful that you might fall victim to identity theft due to non disclosed information.

    It is really sad because these hits are set up to look like high paying hits. People want to make the most money they can so they pick them. look what happens, you dont get to work on the site any more and you get a bill every month that you never wanted.

    Mturk needs to be shut down. I wonder if we can start a class action lawsuit and seek punitive damages and get them for not protecting their workers.

    I find it funny that they want people in other countries to do the work and then they want to pay them in gift cards and merchandise. Gift cards are not pay. People still have to pay out of pocket for the taxes on the money they get.

  2. @Kevin I like to go through and mark HITs like thoae as spam. However, I don’t have a way to tell if Amazon mturk ever bothers to listen to that feedback.

  3. Ed,

    I found this blog by searching for ‘mechanical turk id theft’ because I was suspicious of the ‘too good to be true’ nature of some of these ‘test this site by entering in accurate personal information’ HITs.

    So you have saved me quite a bit of trouble, and I wanted to say thank you.

    I suggest you post the text of some of the HITs, such as “This HIT is to test a data feature on a new website. Please use real info as this is to detect:”, so help steer curious people to this warning.

    If it sounds too good to be true…

  4. @Dustin, I’m glad to hear that you found this valuable. The text you’ve added should help this page be found for those terms. I may get around to going deeper on this subject. I wonder why Amazon hasn’t used mturk.com to clean up the crap that appears on mturk.com.

  5. Amazon will end up losing millions – bilions after they’re hit with penalties for the U.S. labor laws they violate. It’s just a matter of time; which seems to be nearing. They aren’t the first company to violate the rights of people desperate for a job, and they won’t be the last – but they will be caught and held accountable.

  6. Visit “Turker Nation” forum before you work at Amazon Mechanical Turk.

    People work for hours on end at Amazon Turk for way less than minimum wage; often they aren’t even paid for work they do because Amazon permits requestors to refuse to pay.

  7. I just find it odd that you would protest spam then have an Advert on your webpage directly above the comments section which promotes spam…

    I guess everyone’s just looking for their pennies and the world will just continue the same. Thank you. Thank you very much.

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