oDesk - Ethical Policies, Fairness and Integrity
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oDesk doesn’t fare very well when it comes to ethical policies: it has very few to begin with, and it doesn’t do a great job of enforcing the ones it does have. The company actually does a good job of being fair to its users, though, despite its own problematic setup that frequently leads to problems for both clients who want good quality work done, and contractors who want to do it.
oDesk has a pretty comprehensive set of policies designed to ensure ethical standards when it comes to project postings; I briefly listed forbidden projects in the topic on project quality. Most of the prohibitions in oDesk are really more about protecting oDesk than anything else, but I give the site credit for several policies that are more about integrity than self-interest.
oDesk is one of several sites that have now decided to explicitly disallow any project that involves violating the terms of service of other sites. They even specifically list Craigslist, Yahoo and Backpage as examples of sites that routinely experience TOS violations as a result of clients hiring contractors to abuse them. This policy is commendable because it represents a clear statement in favor of fair play: oDesk is, in a way, incorporating other sites’ terms of service into their own, and in so doing, dealing with a form of abuse very common on unregulated freelance sites.
oDesk has a policy against “requesting a clone or ‘spin’ of copyrighted material”. This is to some extent redundant with standard prohibitions against illegal behavior, but because copyright violations are so common, it’s good to be explicit about it.
Finally, oDesk has a policy against school projects, which is intended to protect against academic fraud—another major problem on the Internet. I just wish the company was a little more explicit about examples of such projects that are allowed and disallowed. It’s reasonable to assume that you can’t hire someone to write a paper for you or do a test, but what about proofreading a thesis? It really seems to boil down to a judgment call in many cases.
Once you get away from project prohibitions, things get sparse quality when it comes to ethical policies on oDesk. The company gets low marks from me for a lack of policies designed to protect its workers and clients in most of the project initiation, bidding and work phases.
Most companies have rules designed to ensure fair bidding practices, specifically prohibiting contractors who offer to do work for under the minimum bid, or for free. oDesk seems utterly lacking in this area. For starters, it has a minimum of just $5 for fixed rate projects, which is so low that it might as well be zero, and there’s no minimum at all for hourly work. The site’s terms of service also do not specifically outlaw offering to work for free on an hourly basis, which I find puzzling. The site’s help files do not prohibit clients from asking for free work samples, nor contractors for providing them. oDesk does warn against doing it in their help files, but it’s not against the rules. I consider this lack of a clear policy against such exploitation to be problematic.
oDesk provides very little guidance to contractors in how to write an application (“cover letter”). There don’t seem to be any restrictions on what sort of proposal a contractor can make.
oDesk is also severely deficient when it comes to policies that protect clients and contractors from bad transactions on fixed rate projects. The refusal to implement an escrow feature cannot be justified for a company of oDesk’s size, and this results in a similarly unacceptable lack of mediation and arbitration services when problems arise (sometimes due to the absence of escrow).
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