Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Jun 23, 2015

Mechanical Turk Quadruples Survey Fees, #mturkgate Ensues

by Erika Salomon

Feature Image

Yesterday, Mechanical Turk announced a fee increase taking effect on July 22, 2015. Currently, Amazon charges a 10% commission on top of what is paid to workers. In one month, this will increase to at least 20%. But for jobs with 10 or more assignments (e.g., 10 or more survey takers), the new commission will be 40%. With this quadrupled commission, survey costs will increase by 27.3%.

(Image source: The original Mechanical Turk via Wikimedia Commons)


Update 3:10pm CDT 6/23:


Update 1:50pm CDT 6/24: There are many ways to frame the Mechanical Turk pricing change, and they might inspire different reactions. Thomas Leeper’s got a pretty exhaustive list on his blog.


Fee increases will affect workers

Mechanical Turk workers were concerned when they heard the news. More money spent on fees to Mechanical Turk might mean less money available to pay workers, leading to fewer HITs or lower wages.


Update 1:50pm CDT 6/24: Workers are organizing responses to Amazon, hoping that their concerns about lost income will be addressed.


Academic researchers affected as well

Academic requestors were largely disappointed and angry about the news.


The language in Amazon’s email to requestors suggests that they are specifically targeting survey requesters and marketers with this increase:

"HITs requiring 10 or more assignments will incur an additional 20% commission above the base commission. These HITs comprise less than 0.3% of Mechanical Turk’s overall HITs, and are most commonly used by Requesters to survey Workers and conduct market research."

Still, some are hoping for an exemption for academic research. Update 3:10pm CDT 6/22: Amazon may be considering an academic pricing scheme.


Many are worried that the fee changes will exacerbated existing funding disparities between labs:


Others think that reaction to the fee increase is overblown or off-target:


Mechanical Turk alternatives

#mturkgate has brought attention to the many other crowdworking platforms available to researchers and inspired some academics to collaborate on new alternatives.


There’s also this SSRN paper comparing alternative platforms from April, though we should expect changes to the various user bases as a result of workers and requesters moving sites in response to the fee hike. Update 1:50pm CDT 6/24: Here are a few key take-aways from the paper:


Why the change?

Update 7:05pm CDT 6/23: Although most of the reaction has focused on the effects the new policy will have have on workers and requesters, some have speculated about the reasons for the change.


Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports the official line from Amazon as

"The price increase is necessary to continue growing the Amazon Mechanical Turk marketplace and innovating on behalf of our customers,” according to an Amazon spokeswoman. “These changes will help us better serve our community of Requesters and Workers."

Media picks up #mturkgate story

Update 7:05pm CDT 6/23: Media outlets have begun covering the response to Mechanical Turk’s pricing change. The articles below include interviews with workers and researchers expressing their concerns abut the policy. The story has been covered in:

Update 1:50pm CDT 6/24: A few more media outlets have covered the price change, mostly building on the Wall Street Journal‘s coverage:

What is the future of online survey research?

Amazon’s announcement has raised several issues online researchers have been grappling with since the trend exploded several years ago:

  • What obligations do researchers have to workers, and what are the best ways to meet them?
  • How do the samples and data obtained from Mechanical Turk—and its alternatives—compare to those from traditional methods?
  • How can we use online survey methods to improve representative sampling?

#mturkgate will hopefully be a catalyst for addressing these questions and more.

Please chime in by commenting below.

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Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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