by Beth Bacheldor

The Underbelly of Outsourcing: Spammers Take Advantage of Developing Countries

Apr 26, 2010
Enterprise Applications

Workers in India, Bangladesh, China and elsewhere earn next-to-nothing as human spambots.

Outsourcing continues to turn up in (un?)expected places. Just a few days ago,

the New York Times reported in this story that spammers are outsourcing.

Yep, the folks that do their best to cram spam into the inboxes and social network accounts and Web sites of everyone are outsourcing some of their more mundane tasks to folks in India, Bangladesh, China and other developing countries.

The spammers apparently pay people to fill out captchas on Web sites, which require users to type in letters or numbers that are somewhat hidden in graphics to prove they are human. Here’s a case in which data entry (no matter how nefarious) was initially outsourced to computer spamming programs that was then outsmarted by computer captcha programs, so it has to be outsourced to offshore workers for next to nothing.

And really, the pay is next to nothing—according to the New York Times article the pay ranges from 80 cents to $1.20 for each 1,000 captchas. The Times found some job openings on exchanges like (I checked, and sure enough, there are contracts for “captcha busters” and the like).

Of course, that kind of pay could be considered decent in parts of many of these developing countries, even in India (the Times article says some unskilled Indian farm workers make only $2 a day). Of course, India is also the outsourcing hotbed, and the IT sector continues to grow there, despite the slowed economy worldwide.

Case in point:  Wipro reported a healthy uptick in its IT services revenue for the quarter ended March 31 (just like the other Indian outsourcing companies, Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys Technologies, who also reported revenue growth.)

The company reported that its IT services revenue was $1.17 billion, up 11.5 percent from the same quarter last year. IT services revenues for the fiscal year ended March 31 increased 1.6 percent over last year to $4.4 billion. And like TCS and Infosys, Wipro added staffers, boosting its employee roster by 5,325 staff in the quarter ended March 31, taking the total number of employees working on IT services to 108,071 as of March 31, 2010. It also reported signing on 27 new clients for its IT services business in the quarter.

Now I don’t expect many—if any—outsourcing firms to begin offering captcha-busting as part of their services portfolio, especially not the well-respected and leading Indian outsourcing companies like Infosys, TCS and Wipro. In fact, the New York Times article reported that one Indian outsourcing company did offer such services, but apparently has stopped because it wasn’t very profitable.

But the spammers are ever so resourceful and shameless, and no doubt it’s probably profitable for them to pay excruciatingly low pay for such services. All I can say is, yuck.