Thursday, November 08, 2018

Venezuela and MTurk

Economic crisis generates unexpected consequences. A group of political scientists write in The Monkey Cage blog about Mechanical Turk (MTurk), which is an online survey program hosted by Amazon. You can put a survey out there and users who fit your requirements can fill it out. You get data and they get a bit of Amazon credit, like a nickel or a dime at a time (you can go check it out here). It is widely used, both by marketers and researchers. Political scientists use it extensively.

This actually connects to Venezuela. Economic deprivation has led people to use VPN to get into MTurk and take tons of surveys they aren't qualified to take, and in fact the user may not even speak English. They then can build up credits, buy something, and then resell it for cash.

Some researchers suggest that the fraudulent respondents were based in India. We looked at the number of international respondents who apparently forgot to turn on their VPSs, allowing us to see from where they were connecting with the Internet. While a number of connections were from India, making up about 12 percent of the international IPs, even more — almost 18 percent — came from Venezuela. 
We also combed online forums for MTurk users and found several Venezuelan Turkers who bragged about subverting the restrictions on international users. One detailed how he would acquire credit from MTurk, use that credit to purchase cellphones, and then have a friend in Miami ship him the cellphones.
All of this suggests that the MTurk crisis may have a surprising root. Venezuela’s economic crisis, with inflation heading toward 1 million percent. Some desperate Venezuelans are using online games to win virtual goods that they can sell for real money. Something similar seems to be happening on MTurk.

Shoot, if I were in Venezuela I would probably do the same.


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