An Open Letter to CloudCrowd's CEO About Truthfulness

Don Tennant

An open letter to Alex Edelstein, CEO of CloudCrowd:


Dear Alex,


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.


Me: Right.


You: But you can give us any e-mail address you want for your main account.


Me: Yeah.


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.




Don Tennant

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 26, 2010 11:12 AM wilbur smith wilbur smith  says:

Mr Tennant doesnt seem to realize that in the virtual world it's possible, and often desirable, to have different identities.  And that this can be done without  giving false information.   Online systems are, after all, made to handle more than one ''Joe Smith'' from Iowa City.  There's nothing dishonest or untruthful if two of those are the same person with different email addresses or Paypal accounts.  When in Rome....

May 26, 2010 11:48 AM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to wilbur smith

Nonsense, Wilbur. The question at hand is one of assuming a false identity, not using an alternative login name or e-mail address. This comes straight from CloudCrowd's Terms of Service (which, as I've noted in a previous post, appears to have been inexplicably lifted directly from Amazon Mechanical Turk's Participation Agreement):

'When you register with the Site, you will be asked to provide us with, at a minimum, your name and a valid email address. Workers will also be asked to provide certain tax information. You agree to provide us with true and accurate information, and to update that information to the extent it changes in any way from time to time. When registering or updating your information, you may not impersonate any person or use a name that you are not legally authorized to use.'

Contrast that with Edelstein's statement that people can 'create a separate identity on Facebook for purposes of working on the (CloudCrowd) system.' The context of that statement, as I've made clear, is the acknowledgement that some people don't want to be identified on Facebook.

May 29, 2010 5:57 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to Richard Chonak

To repeat what I wrote above, this is not about using an alternative e-mail address. Of course there's nothing improper about that. The matter at hand is not one of simply creating a separate Facebook account with the same identity. Of course there's nothing dishonest about that. The matter at hand is creating a separate identity on Facebook. You can have multiple e-mail addresses. You can even have multiple personalities. But you can only have one true identity. When you create a separate one, as Edelstein suggested you do if you don't like Facebook but still want to work on the CloudCrowd platform, you're necessarily supplying false information, which is against CloudCrowd's terms of service. Remember that this is all about signing up to perform work for income, so you have to consider the tax implications of working under a false identity. Of course, people do that all the time. For all I know, a lot of crowdsourcing workers sign up with a false identity so they don't have to worry about income tax. But that doesn't make it right, and it shouldn't be condoned by the crowdsourcing service provider.

In any case, that impropriety isn't what I focused on in my post. Not one of us can say we've never done anything that was improper. My focus was on the fact that Edelstein was untruthful when he was confronted with the impropriety. He claimed that what he said was just a mistake that was made because he wasn't prepared to answer detailed questions about CloudCrowd's terms of service. That was untrue. I asked Edelstein nothing about his terms of service. To make that claim in order to try to weasel out of what he said is unacceptable to me. What kind of a journalist would get an interview with the CEO of a company, and waste time asking the CEO detailed questions about his terms of service? Protecting my reputation is certainly secondary to protecting the truth, but it's a good example of the concentric circles of ramifications that are created when you're untruthful.

May 29, 2010 7:28 PM Richard Chonak Richard Chonak  says: in response to Don Tennant

Is there something improper or dishonest about opening two Facebook accounts with your real name but different e-mail addresses? 

Is there any reason to assume that a user making a second FB account is going to give a false name?

Aug 3, 2011 11:00 AM Cazare Bucuresti Cazare Bucuresti  says: in response to Richard Chonak

I just hope the Google Plus will make history and will remove the Facebook from the top of the websites. I cannot understand the reason of Facebook.


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