Complaint filed: Help! My recruiter is an algorithm!

22 December 2021
Robot sitting in front of laptop

Help! My recruiter is an algorithm!

noyb has filed a complaint with the Luxembourg data protection authority (the CNPD) against Amazon because of their dubious e-recruiting practices on their Mechanical Turk platform. In particular, Amazon uses automated decision-making to accept or reject workers - with no possibility for the applicants to understand the criteria behind such an automated decision, or to challenge it.

Becoming an MTurk worker. Amazon Mechanical Turk (“AMT”, a company of the Amazon group) operates a crowd-sourcing platform on the website This platform brings together various businesses and small independent workers located all over the world. These workers (also called “MTurk Workers ”) usually perform micro-tasks for small remuneration, such as image content analysis, online content moderation, or data validation.

Algorithms as recruiters. Theoretically, anybody can apply and become a Mturk Worker in a few clicks. In practice, however, AMT reserves the right to automatically deny access to their platform and the reasons behind such refusal remain completely intransparent. This is precisely what happened to the complainant when she applied to become an MTurk Worker: she received an automated email informing her that she had been rejected without further explanation.

 “What surprised me the most is that the automated email which was sent to me clearly stated that this decision had been taken on the basis of pre-set criteria, and that these criteria would not be disclosed to me because Amazon considered them ‘proprietary’. It made me wonder: what do they have to hide? Did they reject me because of my location, level of education, gender? How did they analyse my profile, and how did they get these data in the first place?” - Kathia (alias), the complainant in this case

Automated decision-making. Under Article 22 GDPR, individuals have the right not to be subject to automated decision-making. The complainant therefore decided to challenge AMT’s decision, and requested more information on how her personal data had been processed. She contacted Amazon data protection officer, Amazon Client Services, and Amazon Web Services (another company of the Amazon Group, to which she was redirected). Despite her many attempts, and a struggle to find where to address her concerns, she never got any answer from Amazon.

If we start living in a world where an algorithm decides on its own whether you are worthy of getting an insurance, a loan, or even a job, human dignity itself is coming under attack. Companies like Amazon must provide proper safeguards to protect individuals against unfair decisions. They should give clear information about how their automated decisions are made, how one can contest these decisions, and make sure that an actual human being can review these decisions”, explains the Romain Robert, data protection lawyer at noyb.

GDPR against the machine. The GDPR protects users against decisions affecting their life when these decisions are made only by machines. This is particularly important in the field of e-recruitment, where the opacity of algorithmic decision-making could lead to unfairness and discrimination on a large scale. noyb hopes that the CNPD will order Amazon to give clear information to the users about its automated decision-making, and a way to review the decision without hiding behind an algorithm. The CNPD can also impose a fine on Amazon, as already done in July 2021.