The Impact of Gift Card Payments on MTurk Workers

Amazon Mechanical Turk pays data workers with gift cards instead of money. Based on seven interviews with affected workers, this report underlines how this payment method fosters workers‘ dependency.

By Alexis Chávez

Trigger Warning

This report discusses trauma, mental illness, addiction, and eating disorders. There are mentions of suicide and self-harm and descriptions of graphic content, violence, explicit sexual situations, child sexual abuse, ethnic cleansing, and animal cruelty. Readers' discretion is advised.

In this report, readers will learn how some Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) data workers, depending on the country where they are located, are paid with gift cards deposited into their Amazon.com balance as their sole method of payment, how the workers are embedded into the platform, and how they have found ways to overcome these barriers. 

I hope this research draws attention to the existence of Amazon gift cards as a payment method, which can’t be used to cover workers’ basic needs. To overcome these challenges, workers must look for ways to transform their earnings into actual money at the expense of losing a significant percentage of their wages, almost creating a secondary job. It is important to raise awareness about this issue, as the principal motive for workers to look for data work is to generate an income, whether it is our main or supplemental source. Even though Amazon does not see us as employees but as independent contractors, it’s our right to be paid fairly and in a useful manner.

As an MTurk worker, all my payments since joining the platform nearly a decade ago have been deposited into my Amazon.com gift card balance. I am grateful for the work, as it has helped me navigate the financial turbulence in Venezuela, the country where I live. But I hoped the gift card situation would have changed for the better after all these years. This made me wonder how many workers face similar situations in their specific context and where they are located.

I conducted seven interviews between April and May 2024 with workers who were or are still getting paid with deposits to their gift card balance on Amazon.com. These data workers from Pakistan, Colombia, the Philippines, Venezuela, Brazil, India, and Kenya were asked to participate in a forty-minute online meeting to discuss their working experience and how it has impacted their lives. The data workers demand the freedom to choose how they want to be paid, whether through gift cards or deposits to their bank accounts. The current payment method doesn’t fully satisfy workers’ needs, and having more options available can only motivate data workers to be more efficient and to do more and better work, benefitting all stakeholders: workers, requesters, and the platform.

Recommended citation:

Chávez, A. (2024). Impact of Gift Card Payments on MTurk Workers. Edited by Milagros Miceli, Adio Dinika, Krystal Kauffman, Camilla Salim Wagner, and Laurenz Sachenbacher, Creative Commons BY 4.0. Retrieved from https://data-workers.org/alex 

About the Author

Alexis Chávez

Alexis Chávez was born in Venezuela and has lived there his whole life. The country’s economic collapse forced him to look for alternative ways to earn income in stronger currencies. He began working on crowdwork platforms and has done so for nearly ten years. Alexis’ strong sense of fairness and his understanding of the importance of these platforms for workers like himself led him to join the Turkopticon team in 2019. Today, he looks for ways to collaborate and improve the conditions for all data workers, which includes bettering communication between the different actors and striving to balance the power dynamics to make the world of crowdwork more fair and equitable.

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