The United States economy is in the midst of fascinating, yet troubling times.
In the span of roughly one and a half to two decades, United States companies have gone from a “The Customer is King” philosophy, to one of abject contempt for the customer. It’s occurred slowly enough so that most Americans have not been aware of the change, but every now and then, something reminds me of just how far we’ve slid, and how quickly it’s happened.
A couple of weeks ago, while eating at Italian Family Pizza on First Avenue, I noticed that my daughter had a confused look on her face. She didn’t say anything at first, preferring to shoveling the oversized pie into her mouth, but a few minutes later, she verbalized her concern.
“Why is that waitress being so nice to us?”, she asked.
She was genuinely perplexed, and I had to pause to figure out what she was talking about, but then it hit me.
My daughter has spent most of her cognitive life in the Pike/Pine environs of Seattle, a place where “customer service” is limited to an apathetic hipster handing you change over a strategically-placed tip jar. One day this past summer, while shopping on the hill, my wife decided to count how many times a store clerk said “thank you” after ringing up her merchandise. Out of 8 checkouts, only one person said “thank you”, but to their credit, two clerks said “you’re welcome” after she thanked them. The rest said nothing, or said something like “uh-huh” or “yep”.
Albeit rarely in the last few years, my wife and I have been treated like valued customers at varying points in our lives. That my kid had never experienced a business actually treating a customer well, however, was something I had not realized up until that moment. It was a sad realization. One of many sad realizations I’ve had recently.
Here and now, being a consumer in the USA means being treated as an enemy of the company you are doing business with. It means always being on-guard. Being an American consumer means always being just one pre-checked box away from “agreeing” to something you would never knowingly agree to.
Be it spamming them, infecting their computers, changing their preferences, crashing their browsers, assaulting their ear drums, or stealing their money — American companies, nearly all of them, now knowingly and openly act in ways which directly harm the customer. Yes, the profit motive has always been in opposition to the wishes of the consumer, but I believe the level of outright hostility toward the customer which we are now experiencing, is absolutely unprecedented.
Where once there was a stigma to acting in such a manner, those stigmas no longer exist. Instead, ripping people off has become fashionable. Don’t let their fake-alternative uniforms fool you … where once a show like Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” would have caused Americans to wretch, Generation Amazing has bought into the “greed is good” mantra reminiscent of the late 80′s and Gordon Gekko, and Corporate America is cashing in while the getting’s good. It’s literally become a free-for-all.
Hell, the programmer behind LinkedIn’s hack attacks even openly brags about his exploits on LinkedIn:
Now, even though corporate attitudes have changed, as well as consumer attitudes, our consumer protection laws have largely remained the same. Corporate America thinks that we’re all ignorant of these laws, though. They bet billions upon billions of dollars on that ignorance, and it usually pays off.
For instance, do you know the difference between a contract, and a contract of adhesion? Most people don’t, and this is why our corporate overlords are fleecing us left and right.
You see, in this country, a contract is not whatever you can trick someone into signing, clicking, or checking. A contract is also known as a “meeting of the minds”, and it’s an agreement which can only be entered into willfully, and with full knowledge of the terms. As such, any contract that someone is tricked into signing is null and void on it’s face. That some judges are as ignorant as the general population does not alter this fact one iota.
Every day in this nation, millions upon millions of “agreements” are “agreed to” by a user who didn’t see the pre-checked box, or was otherwise confused by the terms. I call these “Easter Bunny Agreements” because their sole enforceability lies in the fact that the consumer believes that they are bound.
“I can’t do anything”, I hear people say every day, “I’m under contract!”.
Of course, they’re not truly “under contract” (any contract which one party can unilaterally change is not a binding contract), but the very thought that they are prevents the consumer from doing anything when they get screwed yet again.
As an American consumer, I’ve gotten used to all of these shenanigans. I’ve had to. Because of this, I’ve become somewhat jaded toward them.
I’ve been on what is now known as “the Internet” for over 20 years, but when I created a LinkedIn account three months ago, even I was shocked by what I soon found.
When I first signed up for the LinkedIn account, I used a “free” email address with only about a dozen contacts in its address books, including other accounts that went to me. Within a couple of days, all of those email addresses had been spammed by LinkedIn, with the company suggesting that I wanted to “connect with them”.
When I checked online to see what was up, I quickly learned that this happened to a great many other LinkedIn users as well, many with hundreds or even thousands of emails sent on their behalf.
That this had become status-quo for a “reputable” American company seemed shocking. After all, we aren’t Nigeria for Christ’s sake. At least not yet. Right?
It was at this point that I applied some more thought to the premise.
I thought about Adobe, and how when I downloaded one of their Android apps, they appended SPAM to my outgoing emails. I thought about Oracle, and how they attempted to hijack the browser of every user that ran a Java update. I thought about Microsoft, and how in order to get updates, you must agree to receive promotional offers. I thought about how my Epson printer/scanner refuses to scan until I buy another ink cartridge for the printer component.
I realized that in 2013, this is what we do. This is who we are. The largest, most reputable corporations in the United States, once the most powerful, most respected, most trusted nation in the world … are now on par with Nigerian Princes. The world, and even we ourselves now trust either one no more or less than the other. This is what you and I have allowed to happen. And it’s going to get worse.
Over the course of the next few weeks, my login email address began getting spammed by LinkedIn, despite my “email preferences”, which always seemed to magically get reset to the “I want everything! Send me all the SPAM you can!” settings. At the bottom of each LinkedIn SPAM was a link to unsubscribe, yet in clear violation of the CAN SPAM Act, I was required to log-in to my account for the unsubscribe notices to be processed.
Well, today, comes news that LinkedIn is finally being sued for their behavior, and if you weren’t convinced that we’ve become a Banana Republic before, you will be when the case is all said and done.
The lawyer will get $20 million, and you will get 18 cents.
You see, LinkedIn knew it would be sued. It seems like that’s what they wanted to happen. They’ve been openly thumbing their noses at any and every consumer-protection law for years, and those things don’t happen by accident.
If I had to guess, I’d surmise that LinkedIn, knowing they’ve wronged damn-near every account holder they’ve ever had, just wanted to get it over with. They wanted to pay off some shyster lawyer with a clear-sailing clause, give a few pennies to every person they’ve ever fucked, and proceed with being bought out by Bloomberg or some other suitor. They know, as I know, as you know, that a class-action will provide certainty to a settlement, and bar tens of millions of people from bringing suit in the future.
Unless, of course, you opt out of the class.
As I absolutely will. If I’m going to get corn-holed, and as an American, I’m going to get corn-holed often, I at least want to get paid. In 2013, the American consumer has two choices. He can either be a punk, or he can be a whore, and I’m no punk.
If you’ve made it this far, please consider being a whore as well.
Say “no” to the LinkedIn class-action settlement.