Guru - Ethical Policies, Fairness and Integrity
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Guru is kind of a strange bird when it comes to ethical policies. It has an extensive list of rules to specify what sort of projects are allowed on the site, and enforces them well by screening project submissions. However, there are pretty much no policies related to other parts of the project process, including no clear guidelines for what constitutes an acceptable proposal from a contractor. This is quite unusual, though it obviously makes enforcement easier! And while the company does behave with integrity overall, there are a couple of fairness issues I’d like to see addressed.
Guru has a fairly extensive list of project posting restrictions, which I covered in some detail in my discussion of project quality. The company prohibits projects that involve illegal activity, as well as those offering deferred commission, employment opportunities (as opposed to projects), requests for payment outside Guru, academic assignments, work that violates the terms of service of other sites, and projects that are just generally deemed to be unreasonable by Guru’s administrators.
Taken collectively, Guru’s project quality standards are among the best in the industry. The policy against posting “homework” projects is commendable, as it helps to counteract the widespread problem of academic fraud on the Internet. Guru also deserves kudos for its blanket policy against projects that make requests that would violate the terms of service of other sites. I consider this a simple but essential declaration in favor of fair play and respect for other Internet sites and businesses; Guru is saying: “If you violate someone else’s terms of service, you violate ours”. The only other major sites that I know of that have this policy are Elance and oDesk.
Perhaps the most interesting project quality policy is the one that “reject[s] projects that have little chance for success in our marketplace or projects that contain unreasonable expectations from our Freelancers.” This is a sort of “carte blanche” that allows Guru to not post any project that violates the spirit of its rules, if not the letter. This is the sort of policy that only a company that pre-screens projects could realistically implement, though I am not sure how often this provision actually exercised.
Once you get outside the realm of project posting policies, things get oddly quiet at Guru. Given the high-end focus of most of the site, and how well-documented Guru’s policies are in general, I was taken aback by how little guidance is provided in areas that other sites specifically cover.
For example, there are no policy guidelines whatsoever for contractors to follow in writing proposals. Obviously freelancers must follow the general terms of service, but there is no specific code of conduct for freelancers to follow while bidding, nor a list of certain types of proposals that are not allowed. I would have expected, at the very least, a prohibition on “boilerplate” proposals, which are uniformly hated by clients. Also, while the illegality of bids on projects below the $25 site minimum is clearly implied, I would have thought Guru would want to make this explicit.
Guru’s policy with respect to mockups or other free work samples is also rather odd. The site is very clear that employers may not request mockups as part of their project descriptions, or request them in any other form of public communications (such as on the public message board.) However, Guru does allow contractors to offer these samples in bids, and even for clients to ask for them privately.
I can understand the thinking here to a certain degree: Guru wants to discourage this sort of behavior to prevent unscrupulous clients from just casting out a wide net to gather a large quantity of free samples from freelancers, and then never awarding a project. But I think that allowing such requests in private sends the wrong message to clients. This seemingly contradictory policy may simply be an acknowledgement that prohibiting this in private communication would be pretty much unenforceable, but I still think it’s a bad idea.
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