GOOD

Chris Ladd on Consumer Justice Online

"Getting screwed by large corporations is a kind of street battle, with the companies bringing guns to what you thought was a knife fight."


There are a lot of people getting screwed out there in this great nation of ours. Ten years ago, I would never have known how many. But now I know, for instance, that it took one guy nearly three months to get Verizon to install his DSL service. I know that another took his iPhone to Europe and came back to find a $3,000 bill waiting for him. Yet another had to ask AOL to cancel his account 14 times before they acquiesced.Getting screwed by large corporations is a kind of street battle, with the companies bringing guns to what you thought was a knife fight. If there isn't a threat of corporate lawyers getting involved, then it's "Hold please," "I'm sorry, sir, it's company policy," or "There's nothing I can do."But that battle is changing. The Consumerist, a Gawker Media-backed blog read by 2 million people every month, is one of the weapons behind this phenomenon of digital consumer justice. To understand companies, argues The Consumerist's editor, Ben Popken, we should think of them as forces of nature, governed not by the laws of physics but by profit and loss. These are as absolute as gravity. If addressing your complaint is the cheapest or easiest thing to do, they will. If not, then they're very sorry-they value your business, but there's nothing they can do. "They're not making emotional decisions," Popken says. "They're making a balance-sheet decision."There is, of course, nothing new to this. The difference today is that the internet has mobilized an army of consumers dedicated to dodging ridiculous company policies and hurdling script-reading customer-service representatives. With their sheer weight, they are driving a sort of revolution, pushing case after case from one column to another.Dave Stolte, the guy with the $3,000 iPhone bill, struck out dealing with AT&T's service representative. Stolte would have to pay, they said, or AT&T would shut off his phone-and his wife's. Desperate, he sent letters both to AT&T's CEO and to Apple's, neither of whom responded. He then sent the same letter to tech-blog extraordinaire BoingBoing, which posted it immediately. Within three hours, a high-level service rep called Stolte, apologized, and waived the entire $3,000 balance.This kind of thing is happening often enough that many companies, Popken says, have developed "blog outreach teams," which are "basically like firefighters," stepping in to stamp out any bad press in the blogosphere. Usually they do this by giving people like Dave Stolte exactly what they want. Problem solved for Customer Y. Good press for Company X. It's a win-win. When I called AT&T, a spokesperson told me that the company takes a customer's problem just as seriously if "you simply call us to tell us about it, or write us about it, as we do if someone puts it on a blog."That sounds very much like something I would tell a writer working on a story such as this one. It also sounds very difficult to believe, especially in circumstances such as Stolte's, involving a blog that has three times as many subscribers as the daily circulation of The New York Times. Let's be generous-perhaps the exposure Stolte gained on BoingBoing and the other sites that picked up his story brought his case to the eyes of someone who gave a damn. But perhaps his was a case of triage.Others take their fights directly to the boardroom. There is what Consumerist calls the Executive Email Carpet Bomb, wherein creative googling yields both a company's email formula (firstname.lastname@facelesscorp.com) and a list of corporate officers, which, when combined, often result in speedy referrals to someone who wants very much to make such carpet-bombing go away. There is also the well-written letter of complaint to a friendly CEO, which, if you're lucky, is then passed down to underlings more eager to do his or her bidding than yours. In a variation, one fellow called Verizon's corporate switchboard, asked for the CEO's office, and in less than three days, his DSL service, for which he'd been waiting for three months, was up and running. In each sortie, intelligence is gained, distributed, and discussed. Tactics are honed. The battalion of consumers grows stronger.And then there is pure catharsis, that instinct to gain satisfaction from nothing more than broadcasting the indignity to which you've been subjected. Vincent Ferrari had heard how difficult canceling AOL's service could be, so when he wanted to cancel his, in June, 2006, he took the precaution of recording the phone call. In a now-infamous four-minute-and-57 second recording of customer-service hell, Ferrari asks an astounding 14 times for the representative to cancel his account and, despite being 30 years old at the time, was asked to put his father on the line. In the following week, Ferrari's personal website crashed anew with each link from heavy hitters like the Consumerist, MetaFilter, Fark, and BoingBoing, and again as the story ricocheted through the traditional media, making appearances in The New York Times, the New York Post, CNBC, the Today show, and Nightline. Ferrari had created for AOL a very large digital black eye, seen by millions.To be sure, these stories evoke roughly equal parts commiseration and schadenfreude. For companies, though, the stakes can only get higher. Pissing off customers gets more expensive when each has millions of potential cheerleaders, and each of those cheerleaders is a potential customer. Would it be nice if corporations had purer motives? Sure. But for consumers on the front lines, the very best they can hope for is that someone in some position of influence comes to care what happens to them. In the end, why that happens doesn't much matter.

Blogger's revenge:

Thomas Hawk vs.In one of the first big blogger takedowns, Thomas Hawk exposed PriceRitePhoto.com for baiting and switching a high-end camera. The manager threatened he would "never be able to place an order on the internet again." After appearances of the story on Slashdot and MetaFilter and in The New York Times, it's PriceRitePhoto having order trouble.
Michael Whitford vs.Michael Whitford said he didn't spill anything on his MacBook. Apple says he did. After pleading his case to an AppleCare manager, Whitford took out his anger via YouTube, where he uploaded a video of himself taking a sledgehammer to said MacBook. Three hundred thousand views later, Apple reconsidered and offered him a new one.
Allan Wood vs.Superfan Allan Wood happily spent $280.45 to download the telecasts of 71 games from the official baseball site, MLB.com. But then Major League Baseball changed its video format, rendering all previously purchased games unwatchable. After being told he had no recourse, Wood posted a tirade on his blog, which was then picked up by Wired News, TechDirt, and The Washington Post. The league caved, granting free replacement vids to all.
Krystyl Baldwin vs.Krystyl Baldwin was pretty sure her $14,062.27 bill from Sprint was a mistake. So she filed a complaint. And? Nothing. It took a high-traffic YouTube video to clear up the mess. After being shared with 40,000 friendly viewers, her complaint was fixed.
Brian Finkelstein vs.Brian Finkelstein's internet service was spotty, so Comcast sent a repair technician to swap his router. When the technician fell asleep on his couch and failed to fix the problem, Finklestein filmed it all, then uploaded the video to his blog. Gizmodo and MSNBC carried the story, and within 48 hours a team of Comcast repairmen arrived and worked from 7 p.m. until midnight to fix the problem.
Articles
via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
Pixabay

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Cocostation

Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger

Dizaul

Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head

Speakman

Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor

Zomchi

Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet