What I Have Learned From International Turkers

originally published 24 October 2021, edited 14 June 2024

By Krystal Kauffman

I would tell you how many drafts of this article I have written, but the truth is that I have lost count. Why, you might be wondering? I have a lot to say on this topic, and trying to condense it all for an article makes it feel like I am not doing it justice. A wise friend, a worker from Venezuela whom I met through Turkopticon, told me to be honest. So, here I sit on the evening of my deadline, writing what will be the final draft.

I am a data worker based in the United States. Throughout my twenties, I worked on political and issue campaigns. I really loved being involved in politics, but as the years went by, I experienced burnout. In 2011, I returned to school to study geology.  Everything was going great until I started feeling generally unwell in 2014. I found myself struggling to walk across the university campus, and I was suddenly unable to take the stairs up just one floor. By mid-2015, I could no longer attend classes or work outside of my home. My heart rate would skyrocket each time I stood up, causing all kinds of problems for my body. During this time, my joints began dislocating as well. If I turned the wrong way, several ribs would come out of place. 

I began seeing doctor after doctor, hoping for a “quick fix” so I could return to my life. Each doctor was more confused than the last. It became evident that my dream of returning to my “normal” life was not going to happen, at least not anytime soon. I began to panic. I still needed to pay my rent and bills, and  I lived in a city away from my family. I turned to the internet and began searching for online jobs. This occurred prior to the pandemic, so these jobs were few and far between. This moment of desperation was when I found Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT), a data work platform where people (requesters) posted work to be completed, and workers  (referred to as turkers) were paid per task to complete the work. Working on the platform, also known as turking, seemed like something I could do. I applied, was accepted, and jumped right in.

When I began turking in 2015, I joined several groups and forums to learn the ropes from veteran workers. I remained quiet but enjoyed reading about available work, qualifications, requesters, and more. It was always encouraging to see other turkers share their weekly earnings and know I could really turn this into the job I so badly needed at the time if I put the time and effort in.

Occasionally, a worker from outside the US would be in one of my groups, or I would see a post about international workers, a commonly used phrase to describe workers located outside of the United States. Back then, I knew very few people who worked on AMT, and they were all from the United States. It wasn’t until joining Turkopticon, a worker-run, worker-led advocacy organization that aids data workers, that I had a true picture of workers in other countries. Even though I can only tell you my experience, I sincerely wish that each turker in the United States has a chat with an international worker after reading this.


When I look for work on AMT, I have a large variety available to me, and I consider myself fortunate for that. I knew that workers in other locations have less work available, but I was surprised to learn from my friends and coworkers outside of the US how much less work really exists for them. During a spirited discussion about a particular requester, I learned that this single requester made up 70% of one turker’s total work. Through forums and other events, I have been told that some workers complete tasks from only the same 3-4 requesters. So, why is this?

It turns out there are several reasons for the differences in work availability and likely more reasons I haven’t been made aware of. Some studies and projects simply require the responses from workers in the US only, just as there are tasks that seek only information from females, males, college students, etc. In addition, some grants that fund studies, for example, restrict where or how funds can be used. Beyond those reasons lies confusion with the qualification system. When used properly, a requester should be able to set up a task and include English speakers worldwide. To do so, however, first requires knowledge of the qualification system, which not all requesters have due to the lack of training available from Amazon.

It is also important to note that using qualifications costs money. If knowledge and/or funds are lacking, it seems the go-to option in many cases is for the requester to include workers from the United States only in an effort to receive responses from English-speaking turkers. Clearly, this is problematic. Living in the United States does not guarantee that a person speaks English, and of course, we know that English is spoken by people in countries around the world. Requesters are missing out on great workers by limiting participants in this way, yet I see it happen again and again. This manner of setting up tasks directly contributes to the lack of work turkers outside of the US have available to them. The good news is that this issue is fixable, and hopefully, addressing it here is a beginning step in doing just that. 

Often, the work available to non-US turkers, especially those in the global south, pays very little. There are requesters who lower pay, knowing that these workers will complete the work because they have little choice. Most of us have seen the following statement at least once in turkers’ forums and groups: “If international workers would quit doing the low-paying tasks, maybe the requester would pay better.” 

Even if there is truth to this, how do you tell a person trying to support their family or supplement their income that they should stop working for the requester who provides them with 70% of their earnings?

Instead of asking international workers to suffer, workers in the United States and other countries in the global north need to use their voices to demand better for ALL turkers.


The statement above reflects an attitude that exists in some corners of the turk world. The workers based outside of the United States that I have spoken to are well aware that they, as a whole, are blamed for certain issues on the platform. For example, most workers I talk to know about the social media groups used for buying and selling US-based AMT accounts.

These groups pop up, are reported, and then new groups pop up. The posts can be found on every social media platform. This issue is as old as AMT and has been largely associated with workers based outside of the United States.

That being said, I have yet to meet any turker who has purchased an account. However, I realize it does happen, and those accounts are detected by Amazon and shut down. I have noticed that people never talk about those in the United States who are selling those accounts, though. If this issue is going to be tied to turkers, it should not be placed on the shoulders of only international workers. It is not a “country problem” but rather a turker problem. This is also something that is fixable, but it requires all of us in the turker community to report these selling groups and forums in order to have them shut down. It is only fixable if we open our eyes wider to the problem and stop blaming one group of people.


The biggest and most important thing I have learned from global workers is that we all turk for similar reasons: to support our families, to supplement our incomes, to purchase food and pay our bills, to start a vacation fund, or to save up for that special something. We have our own language that few understand (see glossary below) when we talk about our work. We all want good work from honest requesters. We all want to be treated with respect by our fellow turkers, requesters, and Amazon.

We want the same payment options – bank accounts, not Amazon gift cards.

If you take just one thing from this article, please let it be this:  We are far more similar than we are different. Divide and conquer is an effective strategy that many companies use to prevent worker solidarity, but it only works if we let it work.


  • Turker – the slang term for data workers who use the Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) platform.
  • Requester – the individuals or companies who list work on AMT for turkers to complete.
  • Qualifications – codes awarded to turkers that allow them to complete specific work, often granted after completing a test.
  • International Workers/Turkers – in this context, workers located outside of the United States.
  • Mturk – another way of shortening Amazon Mechanical Turk
  • Turkopticon – a worker-run, worker-led advocacy organization fighting for the rights of data workers worldwide

About the Author

Krystal Kauffman

Krystal is a Research Fellow at the Distributed AI Research Institute (DAIR), a data worker, and the lead organizer of Turkopticon, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting for the rights of data workers worldwide. She began working on political and issue campaigns in 2003 as a field director and organizer. Life changes brought Krystal to start working on Amazon Mechanical Turk in 2015. It is because of this that she is well-versed in the types of microtasks presented to data workers. Since joining Turkopticon in 2020, Krystal has taken on a worker-advocacy role. She is working with a team to build a community of workers who are united in righting the wrongs of the big-tech marketplace platforms.

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