Peacefire Circumvented

September 13, 2006

After posting about Peacefire offering $10 to install their Circumventor software I asked Bennett Haselton why he chose to try spreading the software via Mechanical Turk.

I think there are several reasons why this is a good “crowdsourcing” task:
(a) When you pay for an expensive dedicated host, much of what you’re paying for is the near-100% uptime. With our Circumventor systems (where people have redundant URLs to fall back on if one goes down), you can live with 80% uptime, so the “cost” of the hosting goes way down, to the point where many volunteers host the URLs for free.
(b) Regardless of their talents, almost anyone with a broadband connection has something they can contribute, since most of their bandwidth on any given day is not being used.
(c) In order to get around Internet censorship, you need many nodes running Circumventor-like software, rather than one central server, which can be blocked easily. So not only is the task suited to crowdsourcing, but it would be very hard to run without it.

This task has now been de-listed from Mechanical Turk for nearly a week. Bennett has had little contact from Amazon to correct the problem.

There appear to be a lot of problems with MTurk:

  • The first two transfers from my bank account failed and nobody knows why
  • When the first two transfers failed from my bank account, I didn’t get an e-mail about it, and I had to log in to find out
  • You can’t edit the alloted time, the payment, or the task description for an existing HIT. (Perhaps this is intentional. Obviously after someone has agreed to take on a given HIT, you don’t want to change the parameters on them while they’re in the middle of it. Rather than letting you edit the HIT but having the old payment/description still “frozen” and applied retroactively to people who have already signed up, maybe it’s easier from their point of view just to have you make a new one.)
  • If a requester has a tech support question, each answer comes from a “do not reply” address, and if you want to follow up, you have to fill out a new ticket on their site and explain everything from the beginning again

So Bennett, is Mechanical Turk the future?

It seems there are less than 100 HITs available on the entire site. If there are really that few, you’d think they could devote more personal attention to each one.

I love the *idea* of something like Mechanical Turk — that’s probably why the bugs in the implementation are all the more frustrating.


Censorship Gets Crowdsourced By Peacefire

September 7, 2006

Peacefire are trying to spread their Circumventor software by paying you $10 to install it. And they’re doing this via a HIT on Mechanical Turk. was formed to campaign for freedom of speech on the internet. The Cirumventor software is used to give your PC a URL which others can use to circumvent Internet censorship.

To help create more Circumventor URLs that more people can use, we are offering anybody $10 to install the Circumventor on your PC and share out the URL with us. We’ll distribute the URLs to people who need them, such as people serving in the U.S. military overseas (where Internet connections are censored to limit access to sites such as MySpace), and victims of totalitarian dictatorships such as China, North Korea, and high school.

You need to install the software on an ‘always connected’ machine and the payment will only be once the machine has been up for a week.

Make a stand for Internet Censorship and get paid at the same time.

Help promote the Circumventor at Digg.

Update: Amazon has pulled this HIT from Mechanical Turk. Read more in the below comment from Bennett Hasleton at Peacefire. Looks as though Amazon are doing their bit for Internet Censorship!