Growing up in the sunny hills of California didn’t teach me that. Nor did my psychology professor at San Francisco State. A battered yet hopeful home on the outskirts of Jakarta opened my eyes to a world of injustice.
That is why I’m here. I’m here for Samil.
I spent a month in Asia with nothing but my thoughts, a pen and paper, and time. I met the kind of people you’d only find in books. Charming, colorful, vibrant people. But one stood out. Samil had determination. His eyes were embers of ambition. What he lacked in body weight he more than made up for in passion.
For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to dial home from a hole-in-the-wall internet café. Samil slid away from his station and showed me how. Once the phone was ringing he zipped back to his keyboard and clicked away at a furious pace. His tongue poked out of the side of his mouth as he tapped so hard it broke my train of thought. I couldn’t even follow my mom’s voice. The call dropped when my credit ran out. But I didn’t leave. Samil had this inexplicable magnetism, like whatever he was doing was the only thing the universe was made for. He was so engrossed he didn’t notice me leaning over his shoulder. I caught the corner of the webpage: Amazon Mechanical Turk.
Amazon Mechanical Turk, or Mturk, is basically a place for people to do online work for companies. It’s almost always simple stuff: Fill out a survey, pick out your favorite logo, translate a few lines of an FAQ. The vast majority of the workers are in India and Southeast Asia. I didn’t even know it existed before my trip. Along the way a thought kept clawing at my brain: What if I could work online and live abroad?
So I asked Samil. He told me to come back in about 4 hours.
We shared a narrow bench that his friend’s rusty Chinese motorcycle towed along bumpy dirt roads through lush jungle. The ride took over an hour but Samil talked the whole way without taking a breath of the sweaty air.
Samil does work for Amazon Mechanical Turk. He’s a Turker. Amazon pays him either in online store credit, or via a check in US dollars. He only half-jokingly called the latter option “the toilet paper method” because the only thing the check was good for was wiping his ass. If it arrived after a month, cashing it was nearly impossible, and even then the exchange rate was criminal. What good is Amazon store credit to a person hovering over the poverty line in Indonesia?
Many Turkers, like Samil, order expensive items like iPads and laptops, only to sell them after they arrive. But between shipping costs, corrupt customs officials, and shady mailmen, they’re lucky if they get half the value of what they buy.
After a dinner of rice noodles and chicken broth, Samil’s phone vibrated. Shipping notification: In customs. With the same passion he clicked with he began to cry. He flipped a glass of water off the wobbly table and onto the soil below. He’d ordered a top-of-the-line Macbook, after working for months. It was supposed to be his ticket to university that year. Now he’d need a bribe, and he couldn’t afford it. His wages were trapped behind a counter.
Despair smells like a damp dirt floor.
My name is Aiden Sorenson and I want to change that. I knew there had to be a better way for Samil and the thousands of other Turkers out there to get paid. Giftbac is my solution. Instead of ordering items from Amazon, Turkers can tell amazon to send us their payment as a gift card, directly to Giftbac, which keeps the gift card code safe and sound. In exchange, we send bitcoin to the Turker wherever they are.
With Bitcoin, transaction fees are minimal, there’s no shipping cost, and Turkers don’t have to deal with bureaucracy and corruption anymore. When you use Bitcoin you save us from paying Visa or Mastercard, so we can pass on the savings to the Turkers and give you more for your money. Take a look for yourself. Selling items usually means the Turker loses around 40% of their work.
We take no fees, and there’s no expiration on your card. We even go as far as to guarantee your card for a full year, and promise that the amount you buy is what Amazon will accept. We email you the Amazon gift card as soon as we get a single confirmation from the Bitcoin network. You can add it to your account right away or give it to a friend, or even resell it since we keep the codes private.
We only make enough to cover our operating costs, but 1% of our proceeds goes straight to Amazon Watch, an NGO that aims to preserve rainforests in South America and abroad.
What started as a month-long trip ended up becoming my life’s passion. Maybe it was Samil’s ferver that sparked mine. We hope we can ignite yours. When you buy a gift card here, you’re not just saving yourself a buck, you’re giving someone else a chance to live their dreams. To go to college. To start a business. To just keep the lights on another day.
In a globalized world we all share a piece of the global responsibility towards one another. That’s what Giftbac stands for, and we hope you will too.