An open letter to Alex Edelstein, CEO of CloudCrowd:
As you know, following my two phone interviews with you on April 30 and May 3, I wrote a blog post titled "Taxation, Immigration Laws Need to Catch Up with Crowdsourcing." In that post I noted that the CloudCrowd platform is a Facebook app, and I wrote that "CloudCrowd is perfectly happy to have the members of its proprietary virtual workforce falsify their identities when they sign up." I quoted you from the April 30 interview as follows:
"In general, people are already members of Facebook, or even if they don't like Facebook, they can create a separate identity on Facebook for purposes of working on the [CloudCrowd] system."
I have no way of knowing what transpired at CloudCrowd in the wake of that revelation, but I do know that it prompted your vice president of marketing and business development, Mark Chatow, to post a comment in my blog in which he stated the following:
"CloudCrowd has the same provisions in its worker agreement that Amazon has, and requires that workers provide accurate information when registering."
That struck me as very odd, given what you told me in the interview. So I e-mailed Mark and asked him this question: "If CloudCrowd requires that workers provide accurate information when registering, why did Alex tell me that even if [people signing up to be CloudCrowd workers] don't like Facebook, they can create a separate identity on Facebook for purposes of working on the [CloudCrowd] system'"?
Mark replied that he would ask you about that question. A couple of days later, he came back with this quote from you: "I was simply mistaken in my answer. I have not before been asked detailed questions about terms of service issues, and I wasn't prepared."
I was bothered by that response, Alex, because it wasn't true. I asked you nothing about terms of service issues. The context of your statement was our discussion of CloudCrowd workers' use of Facebook and PayPal. Here is the transcript of that portion of the interview:
Me: The crowd is limited to people who are on Facebook, because this is a Facebook app, correct?
You: Right. Currently you have to be able to get into Facebook in order to access our work platform.
Me: You say currently that's the case. Does that mean in the future that will not be the case?
You: Yeah, we never intended to only be available on Facebook.
Me: Can you give an overview of what your strategy there is and what your plans are?
You: In terms of that issue, I expect that we will come out with a non-Facebook version of CloudCrowd Workspace sometime in the next six months.
Me: OK. And then
You: It hasn't been a big issue one way or the other. In general, people are already members of Facebook, or even if they don't like Facebook, they can create a separate identity on Facebook for purposes of working on the system.
Me: Right. OK.
You: It hasn't been a priority, so we put a lot of other stuff ahead of it.
Me: OK. But they couldn't create a separate identity and still get paid, right? Because they're paid by PayPal and they have to be the same person, correct?
You: Well, from our point of view, we need a PayPal e-mail address to pay you, the worker.
You: But you can give us any e-mail address you want for your main account.
You: And so you go to Facebook and create a Facebook account, then you kind of tell Facebook what you want to-give them the new e-mail address, perhaps, that you can get access to, and then confirm your Facebook account. At that point Facebook doesn't know about your PayPal address, so there's not really any issue there.
So, Alex, it was untruthful to claim that I asked you detailed questions about your terms of service that you were unprepared to answer. You were clearly addressing the real-world situation in which people routinely falsify their identities on Facebook, and explaining that doing so doesn't prevent them from working on the CloudCrowd system.
My hunch is that somebody at CloudCrowd spotted that as a legal concern since it violates your own terms of service, and Mark went on to my blog to do some damage control. In any case, knowingly providing false information to the public in response to my question was the wrong means of going about controlling the damage. We all mess up, and that makes us all tend to be very forgiving of others who mess up, on one very fundamental condition: They need to be truthful about it.
My concern at this point is for CloudCrowd's employees and users. If the CEO is prepared to knowingly provide false information in this case, in what other circumstances is he willing to do the same thing? I therefore request that you respond to what I've presented here, and do so in this open forum, so that your employees, users and prospective users can hear directly from you on this matter.