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Upwork banned my account for 'being dishonest' (ribice.ba)
435 points by ribice on Feb 13, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 212 comments

As a person who "buys time" on upwork quite frequently, I regularly get sent links to 3rd party sites housing example work and portfolios. And almost all of my developers will send me private repos on github. My writers will submit work on Google Docs so we can collaborate. Rarely do I get any worker who doesn't "violate" the TOS, because the TOS is a POS that hinders mine and the freelancer's business.

The great thing about a TOS which everyone violates, is that it can be arbitrarily enforced, for any unspoken actual reason.

Learning the best tricks from government law making.

It would be nice if there was an "easy" way of proving this, and regulations making void TOS the company does not enforce in a majority of cases.

Sort of, if you have the $$$ and the damages are worth chasing in reality you would take them to court. Demonstrating that everyone else is routinely breaking the TOS, and that the company knew about it, would be a very strong piece of evidence in your case

It really wouldn't, at least with the laws as they exist now. Upwork just says "private company, at-will service, voluntary association", and they win.

Trouble is, almost nobody cares to spare that much money, least of all the typical gig economy servant.

This story, and the "POS TOS" that everyone violates, reminds me of Wyzant, which is a tutoring service that connects tutors to pupils.

All payment and communication between tutors and pupils must be handled through their online system, which takes a 40% cut for the first 25 hours of tutoring, and eventually reduces to a 25% cut- after 400 hours of logged lessons.

They're similarly inscrutable when tutors are arbitrarily banned.

Upwork is pretty much the worst type of business, very shortsighted, focused only on extracting immediate value at seemingly any cost.

Last year's 1175 point post "Why you should never use Upwork"[0] is still as relevant as ever and I don't expect it to change.

You should avoid Upwork like the plague.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12773282

So what are the alternatives for people who want to find contracting work without networking?

Not trying to be sarcastic, but I'd suggest the solution to finding work without networking is finding a way to network that works for you.

E.g. you have a difficulty that means you can't leave the house. Okay, so participate in open source or specialist online communities. Write blog posts. Post yourself on the seeking freelancer thread.

> So what are the alternatives for people who want to find contracting work without networking?

Not having your own network opens you up to exploitation and poor treatment, because you need the network owner more than she needs you.

So, if you want that, you're left looking for an usually ethical company, which will be hard with a high chance of failure.

I think people need to be founding more online cooperatives and mutuals.

Hi! I'm not an expert at this so I don't have expert advice, but I have been self-employed as a freelancer, contractor, and consultant for almost seven years now, so I can share how I have been able to network.

I'm naturally an introvert, and also shy, both of these add difficulty to me getting out face-to-face with people, shaking hands, doing small talk, and handing out business cards. It's an EXCELLENT way to meet people, but doesn't come naturally for me. Here are some ways you can still introduce yourself to others without the same challenges:

1) Go to meetup.com events in your city

These are filled with people in the exact same situation as you, so they will be awkward, forgiving, and grateful if you can speak to them, accept their card, and share a bit about what you do.

Not much has come out of these events as far as work, but it's the easiest, lowest-risk, fastest way to practice meeting people. Ack!

2) Give a talk or lead a workshop

It doesn't have to be the size of a conference, but even if you're bad at public speaking and getting in front of a crowd, think of it like this: you can 'meet' or at leas introduce yourself to 10, 30, 100, even more people at the same time! That makes talking to them MUCH easier afterward, and it really gets your name out there.

When I look around at successful consultants, I see a pattern of them regularly getting in front of hundreds or thousands of people and introducing themselves to all of them at once. When you're at that scale, you wouldn't even have time to meet & greet them all individually.

3) Write blogs or make youtube videos

This takes the pressure off you even more, since it's not realtime you can finesse and polish it to your hearts content, and revisit and touch it up later. By putting content online you can become known as an expert in a certain problem area - somebody people with certain problems can talk to to find solutions or results! This is a natural way to establish yourself as an expert in something

4) Job boards

While I would avoid any kind of online 'labour prison' where you sign in, clients and workers meet through the platform, ALL communication, work, and pay must go through the platform, and some even price your work for you, or require you to install spyware on your own computer while you're doing work. Just COMPLETELY AVOID these.

Instead, look for industry-related job listings that cost $$$ money (preferably over $100) to post a listing. The more it costs to post a job listing, the more serious you know they are about spending money on YOU. If they're the kind of employer who only wants free listings…I bet they also hope for free labour too and will only pay what they absolutely must, at the latest date they can.

Reach out to the listings that fit you, especially if it sounds like you might have an opportunity to speak directly to the business owner. I've found that when you make an acquaintance with somebody who controls a business, you don't have to sell yourself to them, they often can see where they can use you, and have the influence within the company to put you anywhere they want. Don't think about it as applying for the jobs in the listings as much as 'meeting employers of people like you' and every acquaintance you make is a win.

toptal.com seems like one of the better ones, but the best option is probably to join a collective.

In my experience they are the same B.S. in a slicker package. Avoid.

What is "a collective" in this context?

A worker-owned consulting firm, basically. Also called a co-op. You get the benefit of shared clients and administration support, without working for "somebody else".

I don't know of any large ones, but I have seen quite a few around.

My experience is that 'collectives' aren't a lot easier for the socially impaired than traditional body shops, and they usually have less work.

they do usually charge a much smaller cut, though, which is pretty good, so if you get along with the people, and they do have work, they can be pretty great.

I don't think I'd advise anyone to rely on a collective as their primary income any more than I'd advise anyone to rely on a body shop as their primary income. Treat the job as a job, be open to jobs that don't go through your collective or body shop.

That's like asking what's the alternative for being a pro football player for people who don't like physical exertion.

I had my Venmo account temporarily terminated a few weeks ago. I didn't do anything other than be the recipient of a $139.99 payment from a stranger "for laundry". My account was unfrozen, but I think it was out of sheer luck more than anything. A less savvy person would have likely taken the notification at face value and left it at that.

I searched around for what to do in this situation and came across many reports of this type of scam, where an unknown sender "accidentally" sends payment, request a payment from me for the money back, and simultaneously cancels the transaction. I did nothing and hoped the issue would resolve itself.

Two days later, I get an email saying my Venmo account has been frozen "due to recent activity that appears to be a violation of our User Agreement." After reaching out to Venmo via chat, I had a similar interaction as the article. They told me my account was frozen, that my case was being handled by an Account Specialist, and that would be in touch via email.

The next day I got an email from the Account Specialist saying my actions and activity were in violation of the ToS and that my account was permanently deactivated.

I reached out to support again and played dumb, saying I received payment from a stranger but can't send the money back because my balance didn't go up. Support again said they couldn't do anything, that my account was frozen by an Account Specialist, and that they would be in touch via email.

The Account Specialist sent me an email saying the payment was refunded and that I should reach out to the sender directly, to which I responded that I didn't know who the sender was and I assumed the payments were made in error and asking them to confirm that I had to take no further action. They responded with a form email saying my account had been unfrozen. "However, please keep in mind that the state of your account can be revised if your transaction history raises flags on our system in the future."

A co-worker's PayPal was frozen because he sent me money for lunch. We went Little Havana[1], his note on the transaction was "Little havana". PayPal held the transaction and froze the account because he used the word "havana".


Mirrors the experience of one of my friends. Venmo took almost a year to clear a 10$ transaction because the note said "Persian restaurant".

I guess you're lucky your account wasn't frozen too?

It honestly may have been, I had no money in it, and didn't try to do anything with it until after the money came through when I transferred it out.

It's absurd that there isn't an option in Venmo to reject all transactions from people who aren't friends. If someone's Venmo profile is public I could send them money with the note "Drugs deal to fund terrorist activities." and there is nothing they could do to stop it. Might be a good way to mess with someone you don't like, especially if they carry a balance on Venmo.

And this is why it’s so scary that our societies are moving towards using such private companies for basically core infrastructure of society.

If the government fucks up, I have an easy way of appealing, everything is clearly defined.

If venmo or PayPal fucks up, I have to sue over country lines, argue an international case, and still have no recourse.

That's why it is so infuriating when people respond to any criticism with "well just stop doing business with them!" That's fine until it isn't.

We have exactly one hospital in town. We have exactly one ambulance company in town. We have two medi-vac helicopter providers but you don't get to pick. We have one garbage company (Waste Management) that you're legally required to use in a residential property. One power/gas utility. One water utility.

All of those are private companies, but I have zero ability to switch. There's no competition. They're completely monopolistic either through regulation or naturally. If this is healthy capitalism I'd hate to see unhealthy.

Garbage pickup is particularly galling. It used to be public, government employees, with no profit motive. You had a complaint process. For ideological or "campaign contribution" reasons politicians gave it away to Waste Management, complaints are now handled by nobody, and fees climb year upon year.

> That's why it is so infuriating when people respond to any criticism with "well just stop doing business with them!"

God, I hate that phrase. There's a grain of truth to it, in certain contexts, but at this point its just an unthinking regurgitation used to protect the utterer from uncomfortable realities.

Would it be possible for someone else to start their own garbage company or hospital with minimum government interference? If not, then you are already seeing "unhealthy capitalism."

If the ToS requires you to waive your right to sue in exchange for binding arbitration, you can't even sue, you instead have to go to a private judge chosen by the party that wronged you.

There is no conflict of interest there.

I am curious to discover more about such scenarios. My understanding was that they generally use American Arbitrator's Association and do not have a say on what kind of arbitrator gets assigned to them.

This doesn't help when the entire arbitration system is biased towards corporations. They are the ones providing them with repeat business.

The proceedings are secret, the rules of arbitration are arbitrary and capricious, and you have no legal recourse if you run into bias, favoritism, conflict of interest, grotesque and willful misinterpretation of the law, or just plain old injustice.

If you actually want a low-cost, low-friction way to fairly resolve simple disputes, we already have such a system. It's called small claims court. Arbitration takes the scales of justice, and puts a pound of flesh on one side of the scale.

There's still a conflict of interest there - arbitration will only continue to be used if it provides a more favourable outcome than going to the courts.

> If the government fucks up, I have an easy way of appealing, everything is clearly defined.

So very optimistic. My wife is a foreigner, so she must deal with visas and visa extensions and paperwork and still being brought by immigration officials into tiny rooms and grilled about her paperwork despite everything being correct whenever she comes back from abroad. Our children are citizens of one or possibly two different countries, depending on whose government you ask. I could give plenty more examples but don't want to give up too much personal info. "Clearly defined?" What a laugh.

Have you ever tried appealing anything Google does?

At least with the government you can get someone to talk to.

Google doesn't even have a phone number you can call, or someone you can go to.

They decide, and you just have to accept it.

And you don't even know what you allegedly did wrong, and can't prevent it in the future due to that.

Does Venmo have many international users in practice? Venmo's terms of service require that you be a US resident physically in the US in order to use it, so I'm not sure how things would go if someone from or in another country were to try a lawsuit or arbitration relating to Venmo.

But I agree with your broader point, both in general and about Venmo and PayPal. They are shady enough companies that I don't have a Venmo account, leave my PayPal account dormant with no bank accounts linked, and opted out of arbitration when PayPal added that.

Most people are also unaware: PayPal owns Venmo.

And this is why it’s so scary that our societies are moving towards using such private companies for basically core infrastructure of society.

One might turn this on its head, and suspect that this loss of agency might be the entire point of society changing in this way. TPTB have heard quite enough from the little people, thank you very much.

This is personally why I’m of the opinion, why we should always try to avoid as much centralization as we can.

Host your own blog, run your own systems, use distributed software. I even keep two payment systems available, just in case. I get gigs often enough (as often as I want) mostly just through people reading my blog[1] (where I can advertise when available)

[1] https://austingwalters.com

But when you're just starting out, how can you get your name out there? Sure, you can write blog posts and craft some good SEO, but who is going to trust someone without reviews from a centralized source?

Centralized sources have the same problem though. Almost every job on upwork is posted with a requirement of a job score of 90+. You can only get a job score by completing something on their platform and getting a positive review.

OP said he did a project for $10, which for most freelancers is maybe 5 minutes of work at their standard rate. If you're going to work for free, might as well do it in your own circle and build out from there.

Here's the thing with hosting your own blog: I write articles only once in a great while. I'd be fine with hosting my own blog, but it would look rather empty. Using something like Medium, it doesn't make my writing look so sparse.

I had an upwork and closed it down for exactly what this is about, except that the client blatantly lied about the work I handed over.

It was a bad contract, but it was completed despite the various issues involved. I submitted the code and he made a claim that my code did something that is absolutely impossible to do: SQL is not going to affect the browser UI, especially not default settings within the browser. I asked for a screenshot of the "issue" and that never came in. The client also made changes to my code and kept demanding I fix it.

I closed down the contract and opened a case, thinking it would be obvious that I did the work as asked and they were very difficult to work with.

It was interesting to read the responses. They kept saying they needed more and more features before they agreed the work was done. I said that the contract, as specified in both the post and ensuing messages was done. I never heard these new requests.

Throughout the correspondence with upwork, the client kept changing their story, outright contradicting themselves over and over.

Upwork, of course, sided with the client over the new feature request they demanded. Apparently, upwork thinks that a contract is infinite work. I pointed out each lie, asked for a screenshot of the impossible bug, and explained the new features (which changed multiple times during the case) would take too long to complete.

I lost the case and ended up doing the job for half price. Upwork is optimized to client first, which is just wrong to the workers. I had to pay 20% of my earnings at $50/hr and up, so it's not like I had zero value to the company.

I closed down my account over that.

In my experience there are two types of jobs on the system. Quick simple projects and almost-full-time-job type work. With simple projects it just isn't worth the contractors time - the amount of time wasted in non billable hours: messages, specs, understanding, setup - just doesn't make anything efficient. Sure, bill for the client meetings - but watch your ratings crash. With the almost-full-time-job type work - it's smarter to just yank the person out of upwork and not pay the crazy upwork fees then develop a real relationship.

Unfortunately, how contractors get really screwed is when they run into a real asshole client. Once this happens they are reported to upwork (for not doing free work usually). Good contractors that worked for us were routinely banned.

[I only have been on the client side.]

Is it easy to move outside of upwork for the financial side, and still have some recourse on both sides? If I'm a US client working with a contractor in Russia, I'd be concerned about taxes, currency conversion, etc. I don't really understand all of these challenges, but I assume upwork has them handled. Is there something else I could use that would take a smaller cut, once trust around the actual work has been established?

Ironically, working with someone overseas makes taxes simple. There are no with-holdings. You just wire money. Couldn't be more simple. If the person is a US citizen, it's a circus.

"As a general rule, wages earned by nonresident aliens for services performed outside of the United States for any employer are foreign source income and therefore are not subject to reporting and withholding of U.S. federal income tax."


I'm truly failing to understand this. What's a recourse that you have with upwork? Not paying the contractor that did not deliver? You can not pay contractor who does not deliver to you via another method. People in the entire world like to get paid with US dollars. Those who live in the countries that provide bodies for upwork have bank accounts or methods of receiving dollars. They would gladly communicate that to you. Taxes? Upwork clearly does not handle taxes for you. If you are in the US, you are responsible for your taxes. i

If you're in Russia, you can't just receive dollars from someone in US. You have to pass currency control, you have to provide documents to your bank that those funds were earned. I guess, there are means to bypass those regulations, especially for small sums of money, but they are risky, so not everyone will use them. That's why worker might prefer something like odesk, those companies usually have established processes to transfer money and get necessary paperwork.

You can use what upwork uses: payoneer.com

The contractor in Russia that is registered on payoneer can issue an invoice to you, with an US bank account number.

This is one of my least favorite innovations of Silicon Valley, the opaque, confusing, no stated reasons practice of banning users.

I totally understand why things developed the way they did. The internet is huge and full of bad actors, and a nascent service is in real existential danger of being overwhelmed and swamped by fraud. If you tell bad actors why you're banning them and spend valuable time communicating with them it can put you out of business early on.

But like in so many other arenas, the Valley mentality hasn't adopted to the fact that they are no longer underdog rebels besieged by barbarians on one side and big scary rich corporations on the other site.

The reality is now that these companies are the ruling class, and the users are the general population. And people rely on these services and base their lives on them. Arbitrary and capriciously depriving people of access to these platforms without any kind of due process rights isn't OK any more.

There's a reason we have consumer protection laws, why someone decided we needed things like the Montreal Convention and the FDCPA and CPSC and so on. It's axiomatic that we can't trust monopolistic corporations to do right by the little guy.

This Silicon Valley mentality is increasingly going to lead to pitchforks, torches, and regulation in the near future, it's an inevitability. Rightly so.

I am quite bitter about the state of affairs. If a company decides to screw you over, they pretty much can. Legally, there is not much you can do if you're not filthy rich. The most you can do is make a fuss about it on social media. If you attract a lot of people, the company will issue an apology and give you a stupid surprise.

I absolutely despise this very common pattern. In the end, the company gets free publicity for screwing you over, and the 100s or 1000s of people in the same situation won't be helped - just because they don't have a massive userbase on social media.

The state of affairs, is that Silicon Valley along with companies that are willing to sell out to automation for everything - have become the new ruling class.

Thought experiment:

What happens if Amazon, right now, decided that you are not a good customer and deleted every one of your accounts and deleted all your AWS data? As of right now, you can't buy anything from them goods wise. And if you were using AWS as a webservice platform, now, you can't. No recourse. At all.

Your Google account was hacked, but google saw you as a spammer and hacker trying to penetrate Google's security systems. They blast all accounts away that have logged in with your IP address of the duration of the hack. You're now without a whole slew of services. Dead in the water, again. Who do you call? Nobody. But you can leave a badly worded post in Google forums - oh wait, you can't even do that.

> The state of affairs, is that Silicon Valley along with companies that are willing to sell out to automation for everything - have become the new ruling class.

Capitalists being the ruling class in capitalism is not new (it's rather the effect that the system is named for), neither is capital being drawn to new technologies that improve the return on capital and reduce the relative power of labor.

> What happens if Amazon, right now, decided that you are not a good customer and deleted every one of your accounts and deleted all your AWS data? As of right now, you can't buy anything from them goods wise. And if you were using AWS as a webservice platform, now, you can't. No recourse. At all.

People actually have sued against that in Germany, and a German court determined that Amazon has to allow you to recover all your data, and all digital products (e.g. Amazon Kindle books) you paid for.

That's fine and good for citizens in Germany, and likely the EU at large.

In the USA, non-negotiable click-through agreements are legal. And we, the citizenry, can give up a good class more of rights then the EU allows. These rights would have protected their citizens, and in your instance have. They do not protect US citizens.

We have small claims, and the hope an instance of the company resides in the state. If not, they can effectively ignore small claims. Nothing to collect from.

So yell at your congressional representation. Yell until you're blue in the face. Make others yell with you. And if that doesn't work, run for office yourself.

The solution is to not rely on (or minimize your reliance on) services that you can be arbitrarily banned from. If my Amazon account gets banned, I don’t care. I can buy things elsewhere and they are not gatekeeping anything I paid for. I don’t use Gmail or any other cloud mail provider. I don’t have DRM’ed content just waiting to be pulled out from under me. Really, the only failure point that would screw me is if my ISP decided to ban me.

You're manufacturing a modern complaint that actually has never not existed in industrial US history. There's nothing new about the Silicon Valley giants in that sense, they're just the latest corporations to have outsized economic power.

There is no scenario where you are not beholden to some corporate entity, and most likely you're beholden to dozens of them to keep you alive and keep your life functioning at all times. The food supply can be cut off by less than a dozen major corporations, and you will die. Less than a dozen major corporations can choke off the supply of fuel or electricity, and you will die. This is true, in one form or another, in every developed or semi-developed nation on earth. Maybe the government acts fast enough to counter that action by said corporate giants, maybe not. It's a system built on the profit motive being the predictable pursuit by said corporations, meaning they overwhelmingly will not behave that way; combined with the threat of military or domestic armed reaction by their respective government (namely that any tech giant can trivially be destroyed any day of the week by the US Government; Zuckerberg could be in chains in three hours if the US Military decides to do it, there are consequences that prevent that as it is).

What happens in ~1955-1975 if AT&T, at their peak of monopoly, decided to blacklist you from their telephone service?

What happens in 1910 if Standard Oil decides to cut off your shop's access to its oil-related products?

What happens if you're in a small town, with Walmart as the primary goods seller, and Walmart blacklists you? Maybe you can drive somewhere far out of your way, if you can afford to, and replace them as an option. At a minimum it severely screws with your life. There's nothing unique about Amazon there, you can order from other online stores, and it might be a huge inconvenience.

What people think is new with Google et al., is not new.

"What happens in ~1955-1975 if AT&T, at their peak of monopoly, decided to blacklist you from their telephone service?"

It rather depends on the reason for the decision to put you on the blacklist.

In general, AT&T was allowed its monopoly power under government regulation. A goal of the Communications Act of 1934 was to provide universal telephone service. Section 254(b) lists the Universal Principles, including (4), "All providers of telecommunications services should make an equitable and nondiscriminatory contribution to the preservation and advancement of universal service."

If your service was cut off because you liked to pump line voltage through the phone system, then they could do that because it's a nondiscriminatory meant to protect the phone service.

If they cut you off because you wrote a letter to the editor complaining about their services, then that's discriminatory, and you could take your complaint to the local public utilities commission or FCC ... or perhaps sue as well; I don't know the regulatory history.

In any case, there was certainly government oversight of what AT&T could do, in terms of putting someone on a blacklist.

Don't mix your AWS account with your personal shopping account.

Don't rely on free services for mission-critical aspects of your life. And don't expect free services to provide support.

And no, "it isn't free, you pay with your data" doesn't make it a paid service, it is still free.

So, if you are a business, I think relying solely on AWS is a super bad idea. Amazon is aware of the lock in effect, and if your usage spikes and you don't have a good alternative ready to go? Amazon is setup so that you will pay through the nose. AWS is wonderfully cheap if you only need a little bit, but it is crushingly expensive at any kind of real scale.

Starting on amazon is great, as it really is cheap at small scale, and you can test your shit at large scale for short periods... but it gets expensive fast as you grow, so the more you can do to prepare to move, (or credibly threaten to do same) the better off you are.

Exactly, don't put all your eggs in the same basket, especially if you're mixing different types of eggs (personal vs. professional identities).

And don't put any valuable eggs in a free basket.

You can take them to small claims court, for about $50.

Unless you agree not to do that in the terms of service.

In order to enforce such a terms of service, the company would have to send a lawyer to court.

Most companies don't even show up to court, because the cost of paying a lawyer is more than you are suing them for in small claims court.

If they did show up to court, they would then have to argue that (a) their terms of service take precedence over the law -- in many juristictions, it is illegal to write a contract preventing someone from suing you for particular conditions.

And they would have to argue that (b) their terms of service are still valid, considering that they aren't honoring their contract in even paying the OP in the first place.

If OP took Upwork to small claims court, it is almost guaranteed that he would get the money owed to him by the clients who paid him that Upwork is currently holding onto illegally.

Terms of services are not laws.

People mistake them for absolute laws but they can be challenged and many of them are not even enforceable.

Sadly, the US courts have held that many of these terms are binding.

> Unless you agree not to do that in the terms of service.

Are such agreements enforceable?

In the US? Probably.

How is that legal?

That's exactly what jumped out at me too, it's pretty disturbing that they're closing someone's account and stealing or preventing them from getting their hard earned money without any real due process. There is a reason when the government hands you a fine or imprisons you they have to tell you exactly what you did wrong, doing anything but is extremely unethical.

This seems reckless on Upworks part considering the lawyers I know are using upwork for a significant portion of they're income.

I don't think it is right to regard UpWork as a "nascent service". They have had plenty of time to make better policies if they felt it was necessary, but it's hard to assume other than it is not "worth it" to them. UpWork's antecedents Elance and oDesk have been around for 18 years and 15 years respectively. From outside observations it is not hard to come to the conclusion that they care little beyond "working the numbers", as long as their sales pipe is full they probably won't change.

As you suggest bringing this to your local trade body and making a formal complaint is probably the way to go. It will take a long time and a lot of complaints to get there though. In the mean time avoid them, both the buy and sell side.

I think it's very clear the parent was not referring to Upwork as a nascent service. They were speaking generally about the process that leads to a culture of ingrained behavior over time, which starts from that nascent service context.

You can derive that is very likely the case based on the intelligence and composure of the rest of their post. You can also derive it directly from the full paragraph text, which is not referring specifically to Upwork, rather it is referring to Silicon Valley broadly, and why "things" developed the way they did with how SV firms have tended to treat customers/users.

It's not just "banning users". The core issue is deeper than that.

The core issue is that Silicon Valley sold a dream: "We can build business without people in its ranks. Instead, we can staff programmers and build glue-logic around our business cases, and automate everything. This saves all the money from hiring people."

The investors bought into that idea. Because if it did work, you can have companies that are 1/10'th the size of previous high industry companies, because all the work is automated. Look no further than all the current crop of companies using software in this fashion. Some AI system "learned" that your combined inputs related a fraction higher as fraud - banned. Or someone checked a box in the wrong location and you're locked out. Or your system is deleting user content at random, and there is no-one to call.

Who ends up being tech support for these new companies? The executives. But that's only for people smart enough to realize to send them messages, or otherwise garner their attention via Twitter, Reddit, or HN and happen to be in the right place at the right time. Even the aforementioned gamification needs to be done for even HN, to get the right post at the right time.

Where do we go from here? In truth, not many places. Non-software companies with real human service will get eaten out of house and home by companies willing to make deals with machines. The VC funding is in AI businesses, not traditional. But one can still choose to be customers at respectful businesses. But the internet makes that much harder, as going online also includes 'selling out' customer service. Some AI will then tell agents "you can't do that" even , if it is what's needed.

> Where do we go from here? In truth, not many places. Non-software companies with real human service will get eaten out of house and home by companies willing to make deals with machines. The VC funding is in AI businesses, not traditional. But one can still choose to be customers at respectful businesses. But the internet makes that much harder, as going online also includes 'selling out' customer service. Some AI will then tell agents "you can't do that" even , if it is what's needed.

You're talking like the only solutions to this can come from the market, and if the market forces won't work that way then we're screwed and must give up.

The real solution to this is customer/employee friendly regulation. I'm thinking something like a rule requiring an easy, timely way to appeal to a human that's empowered to override the automation after any adverse ruling by it; backed up by the threat of fines and legal sanctions. In the current American federal political climate, that's a stretch, but there are other jurisdictions, at the state level and internationally, where something regulation like this might be feasible.

GDPR provides something close to this, at least for high value decisions. Decisions taken by profiling and automated decision making must be reviewable, at least if they "[produce] legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her".

That said, I've worked for a b2c website. The internet is jam packed with scammers. I'd bet it's an order of magnitude worse on sites like upwork where real money changes hands. At least in our case, if we'd had these types of regulations, we would have terminated service to a list of countries that produced little revenue and high hassle.

> Who ends up being tech support for these new companies? The executives. But that's only for people smart enough to realize to send them messages, or otherwise garner their attention via Twitter, Reddit, or HN and happen to be in the right place at the right time.

Obviously we just need to make this kind of behavior expensive enough that execs don't take 20 years to develop a reasonable support model. Hold them personally responsible for their companies, and don't let them hide behind their shitty algorithms.

It feels like there is an incentive to ban high reputation, high earning freelancers from the marketplace for the slightest excuse.

New users often charge bellow their market rate in order to build reputation on the platform. Then once you get your 5 stars and start making good money you get banned kafka style, lame explanation, no resource.

Looks like they want to keep it a race to the bottom more than anything.

If they take a percentage as commission, wouldn't it be good for them if their freelancers charged a lot of money?

I'm sure the do their math but if they make more with higher income freelancers the current state of affairs in the platform does not reflect this - personally I feel it is the contrary as there is more incentive to charge bellow market rate.

Perhaps Upwork makes more in volume if workers race bottom. Or they are really dumb. Lets hope some insider post anonymously and explain the contradiction.

It's better for them if the money gets put in their escrow, and then they ban the user, confiscating the money.

But then they don't get money from that user ever again.

It only makes sense to do that if they suspect that is the last job their user will take. Otherwise it's better to keep the user happy and keep taking a percentage for all their future work.

You're thinking way too long term.

It is too bad that these companies can't charge some high rate for dealing with problems in person at an office. I would sure love to have the option to have no password reset available on my gmail account with the option of going to an office and paying $50 to reset it. Or $50 to figure out why my Google account got banned and the option to get it re-instated. I guess such a system is bad for PR, "Look, Google screws up and makes you pay to fix it.", but for me this would be a really nice system. I really don't like how I can reset my brokerage account password without meeting someone in person and verifying my identity.

I think requiring payment when your customer is at their least pleased is probably not a good business move.

For 5%(?) of people it might be and that 5% are the customers businesses want the most.

Brazil came out in 1985 and basically involves identical bureaucratic obstacles. Catch 22 was published in 1961 and also describes similar unthinking callous bureaucracy.

It's not Silicon Valley you're railing against: it's blind unthinking bureaucracy. It's a problem that goes back much further than the days when "silicon valley" was all orchards.

Brazil and Catch 22 both describe dealing with tortuous government bureaucracy. There's a long tradition of government being miserable in this regard but it's still a public institution that's accountable to its constituents. In fact often the bureaucracy is because of its public nature.

Comparing this to private Silicon Valley companies that are't accountable to anyone for their behavior towards individual users actually illustrates the problem neatly.

I disagree. not like Walmart can deny their employees their pay. The move to independent contractual work instead of salaried work means workers are at the mercy of not only a bureaucracy but simply not getting paid.

The problem in our society is that power is incredibly unevenly distributed.

Silicon valley looks at this problem, and says that it needs to be disrupted. It then disrupts it, by taking away power from organizations that have it, and giving it to itself. We then all pat ourselves on the back and order a rum and coke.

I look forward to the day when the employment market has been thoroughly disrupted by startups that bans like this have severe economic consequences to those affected. Truly building a better for all of humanity. /s

"This is one of my least favorite innovations of Silicon Valley, the opaque, confusing, no stated reasons practice of banning users. " This isn't a silicon valley innovation, it was the modus operandi of insurance companies, disability roles etc for years.

(and i'm sure various industries before that)

It's gone off the deep end.

I created a new twitter account and a few days lates it's banned. I haven't even had a chance to follow/tweet or do anything.

We need regulation that any ban must come with a chance to appeal and a fixed end date no more than 3 years into the future.

Forgiveness is an important part of humanity that, at times, must be enforced.

Also HN. I no longer have the right to upvote anything. I'm not allowed to more than five comments every three hours. My ranking for my comments is now penalized in a unique way: unlikely to ever be the top comment regardless of upvotes, but my comments are no longer pinned to the bottom, like they used to be.

What does that have to do with this? Well...

But like in so many other arenas, the Valley mentality hasn't adopted to the fact that they are no longer underdog rebels besieged by barbarians on one side and big scary rich corporations on the other site.

The reality is now that these companies are the ruling class, and the users are the general population. And people rely on these services and base their lives on them.

That's exactly how this feels. It's everywhere in Silicon Valley. And when you try to talk to them and point out that maybe this is unfair, it's like they don't even grok it. "Fairness? Morals?"

It's about power. The power to control you and have you obey. You either have power or you don't. And unless you build something, you have no power at all.

Those are uncomfortable conclusions. It pretty much defines what you have to do in life, for years, if you want to be in a position where anyone will listen. But that was always true – the world just makes it more obvious now.

But... It's also exciting. We have the ability to acquire power. It's true that most of us won't acquire funding, which is what we really need to influence the world. But at no point in history has it been so easy (relatively speaking) for a side project to suddenly influence the world. If you were a farmer in the middle ages, you were boned. Ditto for most of the present world today.

Isn't it weird? SV suddenly became the ruling class; you're exactly right. And no one has really been talking about the implications yet.

have you considered emailing hn and asking what's going on? They're usually pretty responsive.. and I've always thought of you as a reasonable contributor to this site.

Well theres that Church guy that shouldn't be named here. They're not always "fair" or responsible.

Do you mean the guy that created the OS? I never understood why he gets downvoted if he lives with a particular situation. And why can't he be named?

> I never understood why he gets downvoted if he lives with a particular situation.

Most of his comments that I've seen are rarely on topic, and are followed up with an artifact of his mental illness, which is tragic, but typically has no bearing on the subject. So yeah, people downvote those comments that have no bearing on the discussion.

Hey, I'm sorry. My earlier reply to you was way out of left field.

I was so terrified to post any of this or to speak publicly about anything that it was very hard to read the replies. I was sort of skimming them holding my breath for the inevitable backlash. I happened to read your reply, and it happened to be nearly a verbatim description of me, completely by chance. And me replying about Terry was also by chance, since Terry was the first example that popped into my head of someone who has it way worse.

The truth is, I've been struggling with a few mental problems, and it's been very difficult. Partly because of how carefully you have to conceal them so as not to be labeled and shunned, or at least treated differently.

Somehow in the heat of the moment, it all made complete sense that my mental instability was so obvious that people were talking about it. And I was so stressed about the entire situation that I immediately started replying without thinking. That's more than a little stupid, on a few axes.

But um.. hi. I have a few problems. They're not so bad. And I try to remember to be thankful that at least it's not anywhere close to what Terry's going through. But they do get in the way of social interactions. This whole thread is arguably some evidence of it. Suffice to say, I empathize strongly with Terry and I wish that there were a way to include him in some activities.

When you're completely isolated by almost everyone you care about, it starts to get to you after awhile. I don't know what's up with me but I'm just going to take a break and focus on making the alt-HN good.

Sorry again. I tried to find your email but it's hard to locate. In hindsight my replies to you are incredibly embarrassing (more like mortifying, but whatever).

I don't think it was out of left field, and I've had similar discussions about Terry here in the past. I can definitely understand why you emphasize with Terry, and why you leapt to his defense. It's good to see that he's got allies and people willing to speak for him - too many people aren't really willing to try to understand what he's going through, and just paint him as a villain. Other people, though, take the opposite approach and paint him as a saint, willing to paint over the negatives.

> I was so stressed about the entire situation that I immediately started replying without thinking.

You're not alone, there are plenty of times when I read comments I made the night before and wince at what I've said. :P

If you want to talk, my email address is my HN username with a period instead of an underscore at gmail; it's probably a better way to have this sort of discussion.

Hey, thank you for this. Honestly I've been cringing for the past day and a half about my comment, so your reply was a happy relief.

It's not really an exaggeration to say I felt insane. And like a worthless excuse of a washed-up community member. I know this isn't the goal of the penalties, but the psychological effects after 90 days are quite real.

Other people, though, take the opposite approach and paint him as a saint, willing to paint over the negatives.

Good point. Which kinds of negatives?

It's an important question for alt-HN. It seems like it'd be mostly harmless to let Terry post there, but your comment hints at possibilities I hadn't considered.

I'll probably lob an email your way. There are a few crucial questions to answer before alt-HN goes live. Like "What should we focus on?" and "What color should the topbar be?"

Everyone is convinced the new topcolor should be x. Unfortunately x turns out to be thread local to whoever's speaking. (Ba-dum tss.)

Do you think it's possible to launch a site with an arsenal of bad jokes? We've got hundreds. "The Bikeshed" would be a good name for a bar in SF.

Thanks again. Really. You have no idea how nice it was to find empathy anywhere in the replies.

> Which kinds of negatives?

Being jobless and homeless, as well as estranged from his family. His apparent inability to interact with the rest of society, or even really to participate in our consensus reality. He appears to have Tourette's as well, and doesn't seem to have much ability to control his ability to spew racist pejoratives when he's upset.

I would absolutely go to a bar called The Bikeshed, especially if it had an LED sign outside, and with every drink you got to push a button to increase/decrease one RGB value.

I know, but it doesn't change the fact that it doesn't make any sense to me. It's publicly known that he has a mental illness. I would also like to believe it is generally known that solitude can, and generally will make a situation worse.

I see it as he is trying to reach out, but he is downvoted because why? What effects does a downvoted have on someone? I know I feel bad and I'm generally a person that says "eff it" to a lot of things. I would also like to believe people, especially here on HN, who are much smarter than myself, or so I would like to believe, have all read the same articles and comments I have over the years.

One doesn't need to engage if one does not want to, but where the hell is the humanity?

Sorry, the more I think about this the more upset I get.

Not everyone on HN is familiar with him. And HN isn't really a social club, or a support group. Terry's in a shitty place, but this isn't the place to go to get help, and an upvote isn't going to address the issues in his life.

Besides, where does that policy end? Will we let Torvalds post free-verse poetry? Should Brendan Eich be allowed to write political screeds?

I wasn't advocating for up votes, but anyhow, I see your point. Thanks for your time.

It's true I inherited some problems. Rather than be ashamed or conceal those, I've learned it's a source of strength. When you classify those problems as "tragic," you downplay situations like TempleOS' author.

Did you know youtube removed all of his 850+ videos? That was actually tragic. Archive.org has copies of most of them but no one sees them anymore.

Also, did you notice? He singlehandedly built an OS. If I'm destined for a similar fate, I'll take a quiet life filled with skill.

Besides, it'll be entertaining. I have quite a show planned!

His problems are tragic. His life is innumerably more difficult because he's schizophrenic. His career and his personal relationships have suffered, and the last I heard he's effectively homeless, living out of a vehicle. His life is filled with skill, but it is not quiet, and you're coming awful close to calling his struggles entertaining. (I know it's not what you meant to say.)

Let's not romanticize what he's going through.

I'm not sure what your problems are like, but I'm glad you've found a positive way of dealing with them.

Terry's videos being gone is actually pretty tragic; they were interesting, and his accomplishments can't be denied, and should be documented.

Let's not romanticize what he's going through.

Actually, let's.

He can't control himself. He has no choice but to experience life through his eyes. He's excluded from pretty much every group he tries to join. Yet he persists.

Not only do I respect that, but I am starting to see why everyone conceals any whiff of mental illness. As soon as you reveal this fact, you become labeled and publicly known. And for people obsessed with their reputation, that'd be a risk.

In the same way you can't control whether you're gay, you can't control whether you have certain problems. Mine are nothing like schizophrenia, so it was a little amusing to be given the same treatment. But if hypothetically it were true that I suffered from some, your reaction would be to shake your head and call it tragic. That says a lot about the community.

No one can force anyone else to care. But it's a problem I've thought about a lot. Are we doomed to the Reddit and HN duopoly + faux-edgy 4chan? And Reddit is inherently balkanized due to the nature of subreddits. If you want to talk about problems with like-minded people, your options are severely limited. You pretty much have to create a throwaway or retreat to safe spaces. I've benefitted from both. Can we do better?

One experiment was to invite people to message me on keybase: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16089930

The response was awesome. A lot of them opened up about some really heavy things. We talked philosophy, morals, and mainly just gave people a shoulder to lean on when they needed it. I don't know whether it had much effect. I could tell some people didn't get much out of it, though I tried. But for others it was like uncorking a bottle, and there were often fascinating people on the other side of the screen.

This suggests a way forward, but I'm not sure what. It doesn't scale. But maybe it doesn't need to. I have time.

The thing is, when you bring people like this together, and they act as a unit, they can have an impact on the world. It's a force to harness.

Yet they never get this opportunity, because we're all so busy with our own lives. Why put up with someone's nonsense? Why not just hit that block button if they're giving you trouble? Poof.

That's little consolation to the human on the receiving end. We have no choice but to experience life as the master of our own existence, confined to the limits of our skull. Your thoughts are immediate; no words are required. Everything seems so obvious to you, because you're at the center of it. You're forced to be.

That poses a problem for people whose minds don't fit society's tight molds.

As a community, our reaction has been to dismiss these stories as tragic and to move on with our lives, or to quietly prune them so they can't bother anyone. But as one of the pruned, I can tell you that it's a lonely existence.

My hypothesis is that there is a way to build a place for everyone to come together. Terry's case is difficult, because he seems unable to prevent himself from copy-pasting gigantic walls of text (among other things). But if you were to actually explain to him that the problem is the walls of texts, he at least has a target to aim for that he can occasionally hit. Maybe not often, and maybe only once a month, but those few times would bring him happiness. That's only possible if you're willing to actually speak with them.

I'm not sure yet how to accomplish this, but I'm resolved to try. Slack might be part of it.

The overall point is that it's not helpful to shake one's head and label them. From a game theory point of view, it's better to harness everyone's talents rather than isolate and deny them just because of some mistakes.

Not the temple os guy. (Church is part of his last name) It was a different guy that was more active on hacker news. He was also really critical of Silicon Valley.


I don't know who you are and have no connection with HN other than as an ordinary user, so maybe my unbiased view will be of some interest to you. Your comment convinces me that the HN staff are doing exactly the right thing and that your expectations are unreasonable. If Slashdot had found a way to detect and penalize people who were upvoting fluff, it would be far more useful today. Obviously the HN approach offends you, but they have succeeded in maintaining a quality general discussion forum over time, an accomplishment that seems to have eluded almost any other group that has tried.

>If Slashdot had found a way to detect and penalize people who were upvoting fluff, it would be far more useful today.

I thought their metamoderation system was great. The issue with Slashdot is that you had to be one of the chosen few with mod points that day to contribute to moderation.

It seems like a good idea, but the results just were not very good.

Oh, you can lose your upvoting privileges because of that? I'm upvoting every comment in the thread I wrote in :D

Learned it from Reddit - upvotes are free, and it may make some people happy, so why not.

Can you give me details of the alt-HN you are building?

There is already Lobsters, afterall.

Sure! Email me or shoot me a message on keybase. :)

I whole-heartedly agree with you. I’ve been restricted on HN for much less. My posts are always respectful and encourage productive dialogue, yet I believe I’m perceived as a troll because I’m direct or maybe aggressive. Again, I’m never disrespectful but I’m willing to directly challenge incorrect thinking, you can check my history for yourself.

The regulation on style instead of substance on this site really make me question their commitment to intellectual / productive conversation.

Sometimes I wonder how long someone like Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, or Theo de Raadt would last on this site. I don’t think very long. A site that would ban the most influential hackers of our day simply for bad etiquette doesn’t really seem like a site for hackers.

There's a principle on HN that I'd like to find a way to convince the community of more fully: if you think you know someone's work better than they do, consider what you might be missing. Do you really imagine that we haven't thought of this? or care about the issue? or might it just possibly be more complex than you make out?

It goes both ways. Have you had the experience of being shadow banned unfairly? If not maybe consider what you’re missing. Maybe listen to your users.

Also, a lot of the task-rabbits forced to do customer-service work have a axe to grind with the upper echelon.

You can test this out- try to get customer service as a yeoman and try to get customer service as a valley baron.

So, lesson learned- never enter true occupation data in a field when registering.

Almost 100% positive upwork somehow magically unsuspends his account after seeing this thread. When will these companies ever learn that it’s not okay to misbehave and quietly “fix” things when publicity gets bad?

Generally only when it becomes economically or legally impossible to continue doing so.

So never ?

You're correct, they did that an hour ago.

That's absolutely unbelievable! It looks like the times of civilized conversations are over, and public shaming is the only strategy that works for companies like these... Facebook, Google, you name it - they don't care about you, but once your submission on HN gathers enough traction, your problem magically disappears. That's ridiculous.

I think google and PayPal have shown every companies in the valley that you can be unreliable and stonewall your users without hindering economic success.

That's not actually the context.

They're being unreliable and stonewalling an extraordinarily tiny percentage of their massive userbases. That's precisely why it doesn't matter to them in a business sense.

PayPal froze my account a few years ago for "suspicious activity". I still don't know what that activity was. Support gave me the same sort of runaround non-answers as described in this article. I finally got to talk to someone on the phone and had an exchange along these lines: me: "Is there any way I can continue to use paypal?" paypal: "You can open up a new bank account and then use that to register a different paypal account" me: "..."

While I agree that those companies and many others have become quite successful taking this tact, it was really only successful because of those businesses are nearly monopolies. Obviously this is similar to ISPs. Upwork competes with tons of other boards directly as well as LinkedIn, Indeed/Job Boards, Craigslist, general networking and other preferences (not working an additional part time job).

Also, similar to recruiting these places need to attract top talent consistently not just warm-bodies. Highly skilled workers can afford to exercise other options much better.

You're right, but upwork is the dominant marketplace for low-cost contract labor. It is the merger of what was previously a duopoly in the space (elance and odesk) and the network effects are strong.

So maybe it's not quite as monopolistic as the others you mentioned but it has clearly (and rationally) chosen to compromise fairness to its users to a degree that it likely could not in a more competitive market.

I believe software is a market for lemons (1). You don't know what quality you will get so on places like Upwork people are not prepared to pay much. Even though there's a shortage of developers, it's almost impossible to find freelance work, and there's plenty of people exploiting those who work basically for free just to get a good rep. And at the same time there's people paying outrageous prices eg $100,000 for a simple web site.

>How is it possible to propagate a session id in PHP

What the hell does that even mean? I write PHP for a living and this makes no sense to me.

Do they mean retrieve the ID via session_id() and pass it onto a page, like in a GET parameter?

Or by way of setting a cookie? Haven't coded PHP (shudders) for 2 decades but that's where my mind went.

I believe she meant to start the session on every page. E.g.: `session_start()`

But you're right. The question is confusing even for experienced PHP devs.

Yeah, I was super confused when I read that too... Maybe it's some session_start() stuff...but I can't remember the last time I used that function, since most modern frameworks will handle session stuff for you.

I think using cookies?

There's no real answer since the term "propagate" can mean one of several things. For example are we propagating the session ID from the server to client or client to server? And in both cases there are several answers which apply.

PHP Dev or not, that question is too vague to be answerable. You'd have to ask additional questions just to understand the question itself.

As you would expect, Upwork doesn't have the resources for people that really know PHP to be doing these verifications. While we all agree that the question was poorly-worded, anyone with decent communication skills (a much-needed skill for people doing the kinds of client-facing software engineering jobs that are on Upwork) can easily recognize this and work with the non-technical person conducting the interview to arrive at the "right" answer even though it "DOES NOT COMPUTE" to the overly-pedantic "language lawyer" in some.

I remember someone angrily posting on HN about failing an HR phone screening because they tried arguing with the interviewer that Linux was not Unix, but was Unix-like (a sign that the interviewee clearly knew the one-word _expected_ answer that was on the interviewer's answer key). Just answer the very simple question and move on, instead of trying to show off or whatever. Part of functioning in the workplace means communicating effectively and professionally (by not being condescending, for example) with other people that may have different skill sets. The best engineers are very cognizant of this.

I've had nothing but bad experiences with Upwork.

I've never heard anything but bad experiences. Why do people even bother with it?

Because it's a way to make money while you're between jobs while still using the skills you're good at. Not everyone is great at networking, nor are they necessarily in a place where they could pull good clients even if they were.

It's a shit sandwich, but in tough times, that's all you can find to eat.

> Because it's a way to make money

You're not making money if they're refunding the client. This article and people in this thread suggest it's a terrible way to make money and to AVOID at all costs.

Or, you can use this company and I look forward to reading more of these articles.

Yes, it's worked out terribly for some people, but everyone I know who have done upwork jobs on the side have had next to zero problems.

I don't use them anymore, as I've gotten out of the tech industry and became a professional baker instead, but I get the feeling that we on HN tend to hear a few horror stories, and ignore the thousands of success stories.

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be changes made, but anecdotal evidence does not instantly justify a witchhunt and boycott.

As a professional baker, what do you do differently from traditional bakers?

I get paid for it.

Edit: For a slightly less sardonic answer, I prep an innumerable number of different items every day, and they all have to look near perfect. I decided that while programming was a passion of mine, I wanted to do it on my own terms. I wanted to create projects that I found interesting.

Baking though? If I want to make something at work that I find interesting, I can experiment and do that, and my boss encourages me.

So I still code, but I stopped doing it for money and started doing it to contribute to society. Baking I do for fun and money. It was a later in life career change, but I'm much happier for it.

So is there, like, a Baker News out there somewhere?

There isn't enough dough for that.

Fair enough, this is probably why I always have side gigs.

I'm a programmer, occasionally I use it to find people to help me with side projects. It seems to work pretty well, once you have the interview process down you can find some good people on there.

Got any tips on how to get going on a site like Upwork? I'm not sure I tried that one before, but I had a horrible experience on Freelancer.com and I've sorta shied away from those since then. I have enough on my plate with grad school and a full-time job at the moment, but if I ever find myself in dire straits I'd like to have options.

Toptal as a freelancer for full or part-time I find better, even if it comes with all sorts of other issues like their opaque refund policy. There's other freelancer sites around too that are similar, usually posting on remote job boards like remoteok, weworkremotely, jobspresso ect. Surprisingly making a post on your local Craigslist you want contract, P/T work pans out too if some local company decides to contract you but I wouldn't work for individuals there since you'll likely not get paid. There's also here, the monthly freelancer for hire post.

Charge bellow market rate in order to build reputation than brace for the day some dick will complain about some bullshit and they pull the rug under your feet.

Because of the site/system/admins, or the people who use it?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Bad site. Bad admins. Bad System. Bad providers. Bad Buyers. It's a sandwich of crap from top to bottom. I prefer to find, engage, pay, and manage my contractors direct. Do I get burned from time to time and have a hard time finding good contractors? yes. But I'd rather do that than have my time, money, and reputation wasted by something I have no control over.

This is what happens when you outsource customer support to someone outside your company's culture.

I've used and spent plenty on Upwork, and when they were called oDesk. Is there an alternative out there that (1) I can post a price for a job, (2) interview/critique candidates,(3) easily go back and forth as the job is in progress, (4) approve, "complete", possibly rate, and pay the person doing the work....all without Upwork's bullshit?

Looks like a good side project. I want to build a platform that charges only for arbitration and escrow. I want to build a video interview system where you can select the questions you are interested and it will compile a 2X compact video with the answers for speeding up screening. Than the system uses AI to find and recommend candidates like the ones you rank better. I want to fix remote work and freelancing.

Overall I get value out of Upwork as a buyer, but a full 60% of the applicants I get are scam bait-and-switch accounts. I’ve figured out how to navigate it but it doesn’t surprise me that they’d be strict on their TOS.

This has been my experience as a client as well. Fell prey to a couple of "say we're doing the work but we ain't" devs that thankfully UpWork refunded so I'm glad to hear they're cracking down on scam accounts. Sad to hear that legit accounts are getting caught up in the process though.

Upwork is horrible. They take on average 25% of your pay, on top of taxes. Bad customer support and its flooded with low-cost labor.

Ya, I end up declining 99% of all offers on up work. I'd say very few are actually good projects with good people behind them. Most are assholes who treat freelancers like garbage.

Honestly it literally sounds like that is the business model.

"Let's build a platform that exploits desperate developers..."

Actually, the only thing surprising about the article is how little this poor fellow is getting paid for the work.

No crap. $15? I have to imagine he spent at least a couple hours on it. Even $50 seems like it's not worth the time. I really doubt he's spending less than 2 hours on any of this. Not to mention just finding and applying...

You're correct. I did it more for the reviews, so that I can charge appropriate rates later on.

I spent probably 2-3 hours for that $15 (and 3 hours more for additional $30) and then about 2 hours for that $100 (expected $50). These are all excluding messaging, just actual work.

I'm sure the author took those low-budget projects to get at least some reviews. The rate gets better as you fill your profile and get good reviews, otherwise the customer will have to choose between 10 identical profiles (except that the names are different).

It was more for the reviews than the money. I assume after having few positive reviews, it's easier to get higher paying jobs.

It's a standard guide when joining new freelance sites.

I wish there was something better than Upwork.

The platform is pretty buggy, I don't enjoy using it. The only reason I stick to it is the "pool" of freelancers is pretty big so you can likely find someone qualified and decent to work with. You get _tons_ of junk though. You can limit this by setting to only in US, only those that have worked x hours and have already made x. Setting strict requirements at least can remove the bait and switch or fresh spam accounts.

Fun story time. I was looking for a developer and found a guy that seemed to have a nice profile, clear picture, etc. When I messaged him the responses felt very foreign and quick. Didn't really make sense so I reverse image searched the photo and found the photo belonged to a developer but not the guy I was talking to (different names). I emailed the real guy (he had a portfolio site and some nice programming articles) and asked if this was really him on Upwork. Nope. He said he's never had a profile on there and thanked me as he went to report it.

Upwork can be a stepping stone for talented developers who don't necessarily have the exposure, community or connections and may not have the accessibility to compete in other market places like Toptal.

In my experience Upwork support has always been slow and cut-rate. I realize the irony as Upwork most likely employs contractors from its platform who aren't necessarily invested in building a product or community. It's unfortunate but this is a huge shortcoming both from a support and policy (ToS) standpoint. Support needs to be invested in the product.

FWIW no freelancer (or gig economy worker for that manner) should be dependent on a single platform for income. There are so many job platforms to invest time and energy on - Upwork, Toptal, Gun.io, RemoteOk, etc. And the plethora of developer focused Q&A sites. Leverage those to augment your personal profile (site).

Thanks for mentioning Gun.io.

I'd also add a recommendation to spend at least a third of the time you spend doing billable work in building up your own pipeline — regardless of whether you're using a freelance service like us or not.

It is foolish to fully rely on UpWork on any other similar websites without strong legal representation in place.

Threatening legal action against UpWork gets you far in these situations.

These SV companies think they can do whatever they want and sometimes need a harsh reality check that they must obey laws, especially as more and more people depend on them.

I can't wait for GDPR and alike to start regulating these atrocities against privacy, security and fraud like behaviour.

If anyone from UpWork is reading this, know that not I only I have personally closed my account, I will do everything in my power to keep hard working, honest engineers from your platform.

And help them in any shape or form should they seek litigation against you.

Wow. This has to be some of the worst customer support I’ve ever seen. The only thing I experienced that was worse was American Express cancelling my account, telling the credit bureaus I was dead, not allowing me to pay them, and hanging up on me when I called them. Eventually I managed to find out that they sold the account and got ahold of who had it now, but they wouldn’t accept my payment because I wasn’t really dead, and had to transfer my account back to American Express. After finally resolving this and paying them in full, they report to the bureaus that I was late several months on my payments, and any attempt to appeal this has just been ignored. So I just have to wait for it to fall off my report. Until then, I’m paying over 12% interest on a fucking auto loan.

> This has to be some of the worst customer support I’ve ever seen.

Actually, the OP is not a customer. A customer is someone who delivers money. Upwork treated their actual customer quite well: they refunded him and talked to him like human beings - even told him the reason why the OP was suspended.

Actually OP IS a customer. Upwork gets 20% out of his pay for being a glorified invoice generator.

I'm pretty sure Upwork doesn't seem it that way, as their actions clearly show.

Employees of a temp agency are not customers, even though the agency takes XY% of 'their' pay.

If you do enough mental gymnastics to argue that they are... Well, then the word has lost all meaning.

This is a really good point and it is the reason why Upwork is good for one group of people, people who need to find workers, and bad for the workers.

I do not think that is very sustainable long-term... I think you'll be able to find much better quality workers in system that is more equitable.

However, systems like that don't exist.

I've been wanting to create a system that is more equitable but concluded that humans would rather take advantage of one another than be fair when it comes to paying.

I think freelancers are a major part of the problem, especially those who are very desperate for work. For an equitable system to exist you must be someone who is ready to say no at any point of the getting to know the project phase.

As a designer i find it easier to close deals on the phone and imagine other experienced freelancers operate the same way. Unfortunately a call based system is inherently wrong for an online platform that aims to earn profit on project fees. The reason upwork has been successful is because it charges fee on a project vs charging the customer or freelancer a flat fee and sadly such setup is not ideal for a freelancer who may be looking at projects in the tens of thousands range.

I think you might have tried to solve the wrong problem. The problem you actually seem to want to solve is a way for clients to get connected with people who can solve their problems.

The problem is not, as you seem to be hinting at, some mediation or escrow for freelancers, which is what the majority of Upwork is.

I think you could have a great system that "puts people in touch with each other" in a professional way. Maybe invite-only? Hmm.

Bureaucracy makes absolutely no provision for the correction of mistakes. I dread ever having to talk to large companies. They're much too eager to blame the customer for any problem regardless of reason, just so long as they're no longer their problem.

Perhaps a small-claims lawsuit could recompense your suffering? There might be some law that absolves them from liability, but they would have to show up to argue the point, and they can’t send in the lawyers.

I have considered this, but it seemed not worth the risk given the expense of a lawyer. I’m not an expert on this at all though, so I could be wrong. I had mostly assumed the odds of winning something like that were low because what they did seems to be legitimate even though it sucks.

Lawyers are not typically allowed in small claims court. Individuals represent themselves, and businesses send a representative who is not a lawyer. Often, larger businesses fail to send a representative. The plaintiff still has to convince the judge they have a case, but it's easier without opposition.

It's my opinion that I would sue AmEx if this happened. I'd contact the CPFB and file a complaint (https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ ). Don't use phones. Send certified mail. It's my opinion if this happened to me I'd be injured for the extra interest due to their mistake.

Dispute it with each of the credit bureaus.

Unfortunately I’ve done this and it goes nowhere.

Can you try sueing them?

Upwork is bad. Their fraud prevention has been a problem for a long time. They have had major basic system stability problems, and even data privacy issues. It is like the lumbering giant of craigslist except far less benevolent.

I had a decently good account on Upwork. I had a few jobs on there that developed into great long-term contracts.

One time, me and a client logged into Upwork to close a contract out on the same network. We both got banned :)

I had freelanced using Odesk before it became Upwork, And I do hold some balance in the account even now. I am inactive(not bidding anymore) on it since 2014.

Six months ago from nowhere I got a sudden email about my account suspension. I appealed and try to prove my identity with Government Issued ID card, Academic details even My name in the list of the post-graduates(with no result). They keep on denying to re-activate my account and suggest me to withdraw my money, that I have not yet.

I can still browse Upwork, It is becoming more toxic with agressive bidding and way lower quality jobs now a days.

i'm up voting specifically because it seems that companies that see stories like this on hacker news tend to comment on them. We had such a case about 2 weeks ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16261136

I hope you get this resolved, but let this be a warning that these "gig" companies are nothing but a scam.

It's hard to see how they can justify reversing the payments on jobs he's already done. That said I do have a couple of issues with his decisions here:

> Before starting the verification process, I completed the second gig

That seems ... optimistic!

> She talked a bit more, but I could barely understand her anything due to connection issues.

> ...

> “That went far easier and quicker than I expected. Lovely.”


Other than that his experience does seem extremely frustrating.

I'll try to find some remote work soon and I'm interested in upwork alternatives. I've heard a lot of bad things about them and it's risky to depend on that service. But I didn't hear about any big competitors. I'm talking specifically about some small pieces of work, not just remote work, without automatic screenshots and all that nonsense.

Pilot have contacted me last month and I really like their policy. They only do long-term full-time contracts with reliable companies, and have a flat fee of 30% - you can set whatever rate you like. I am happily employed but I feel it's a far cry from services like Toptal who have opaque, allegedly much larger commissions.


Some more alternatives:



Upwork banned me too. some offensive words

their entire business model is making sure that their users never get a fair deal by communicating directly with the people they find via upwork.

is it really so surprising that they are fucking abysmal at customer service?

my experiences with them are 100% bad, but nowhere near as bad as what the OP article discusses.

I never used Upwork and and wondering - how on Earth can they make sure that I deliver the code to the client, and that there is no information in the code that could be used to identify me. Apart from that, the identity of the person is their unique brand, it guarantees integrity (or a lack of it), it allows to check one's portfolio and verify the skills of the developer - for example by looking at their public contributions. When you take all this away, what are you left with?

> When you take all this away, what are you left with?

A "mechanical Turk", as amazon would call it, a "Code Monkey" as Jonathan Coulton sang in his song.

A completely exchangeable person, an employee as a service. How the code is written, who does it, is entirely irrelevant. Entirely replaceable, with no recourse for the "contractor".

The main component of the gig economy is exactly this, completely disenfranchising the worker by commoditizing work. You try to negotiate higher pay, you simply get replaced.

> The main component of the gig economy is exactly this, completely disenfranchising the worker.

It's even more insidious than that. Previously, it's workers came together to create unions, to prevent abuses by the company owners. Go back far enough, and companies hired hit squads in part of the US government to kill union leaders and bust strikes.

Then, unions were demonized. They "enabled lazy and bad workers, and punishing good workers" - I thing I got the root of the arguments used.

Then comes the gig economy. We have a company, who "hires" employees, but then pits each employee against each other. Doing so then puts each employee in the position of "I'm against employee #2, and #3, and #4". This poisons the pot for any chances of coming together, and fixing wrongs. And it also easily allows what we would have called "scabs" to immediately enter if there is a union forming.

Yeah, that’s a major issue – it’s interesting how this gig economy is going to play out, because in Germany a lot of foodora drivers actually unionized, and of course foodora simply blacklisted them, which employment law forbids. So now it’s playing out in the courts.

> So now it’s playing out in the courts.

It's because it's in Germany, in the USA they would be laughed at.

Another option in case of upwork is to tell them you don't have webcam, then they will ask you to upload few government ids. Nonetheless i had bad experience with upwork as a client as well as a contractor.

Funny they're so quick on the block button now!

Someone once created an account on upwork in my name (based on my github probably), took me ages to get that one shut down..

This reminds me of Google and their atrocious customer account systems. These companies are just not impacted enough in a negative for them to change.

What are some good alternatives from your experience?

just visit their twitter help acct and you'll see how grate their customer service is https://twitter.com/UpworkHelp/status/963348399213834240

And, the user is playing "HN Customer Roulette" by hoping they will get enough traction here to garner a fair response.

When you're a serf on another's platform, you're subject to their rules. What rules are they? "Does their automated system and people like you?"

Is it unfair? Yes. Is it bad all around? Yes. Is there anything you can do about it? Yes - posting to social media and naming and shaming. That's it.

Sorry to hear about your experience with upwork. Sounds like you might have still had PHP in your profile from years ago and when you said you don't do PHP development in the video chat that was enough to trigger a suspension.

Honestly you're probably better off you ended your upwork journey after only a couple gigs.

I did a few projects on elance years ago but it was always a hassle and tough to find good projects/clients.

It sounds like you are providing good value/quality work to clients. Look to your network to find Go projects instead. Become more active in the community. Keep blogging.

Connect with other Go developers, ask around if anyone knows anyone needing a Go developer. Lots of times developers don't have time to handle all the projects/clients they run in to and will hand them off to someone else they respect in the community.

You're going to find better projects/clients and higher paying side work that way than using upwork. And not have to deal with their hassle, fees and issues like this.

This might be a little bit of a gray area since it violates their ToS but since your account is suspended anyway if you have the emails of the two clients you worked with you could contact them and contract with them on new projects directly. (Don't mention here that you are doing this in case your usernames are the same on HN/upwork)

Especially the last one where you completed the gig, he paid you a higher amount than agreed on and then upwork refunded your fee for work completed. He should be open to moving forward contracting directly.

Good luck finding side work.

Oh, common on, every time freelancing topics comes up on HN there are at least few comments: "just do networking, it's so easy, and gigs just starts falling from the sky". No, this advice doesn't work well outside of tech hubs or good existing network (from university etc.) In some places developers are few and far between, especially if you are into more specialized, niche areas. Of course, you can try participate in online communities, but it's hard (i.e. good luck getting your first patch into Linux kernel mainline) and time consuming, especially if English is not your first language. Typical Upwork and similar services user is someone from rural Bangladesh, not well-connected MIT graduate working in sexy startup in Silicon Valley.

Or you could take upwork to small claims court.

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