Saturday, December 24, 2011

Commercial Spam from Prompts and Keywords

How much did 'Christies' (the auction house) pay to get top rank in the prompts of my phone?  Did they pay the phone manufacturer HTC, or Microsoft who own the operating system (who also did other downgrades, 8 months before the contract ended)?

'Christ***' pops up, exclusively, and ahead of Christmas, Christ, or Christian.  Also, the phone chooses not to remember that I have never (and probably never will) wish to type 'Christ***'.

Could I offer to pay an extra (one off) $5 to opt out of all such prompts? In a world where consumers need to be informed, and suspicious, it would only be just if we were offered the chance to outbid commercials.  Which, by aiding the rich and powerful rather than the good, actually act against competition, rational choice and good in the world.

One can say the same of Google prompts in search and Chrome/Android/Etc - where strange things like Dubonnet, and American Airlines sometimes intrude suspiciously.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Supicious, Penny-pinching and Ruthless Shopper

British Gas (Centrica Plc - the UK corporation) believe the lazy shopper should be punished with higher charges - so they charge loyal customers more.  They also use complex tariffs so that it is very difficult to tell if another tariff is actually any cheaper.

Is this is a good, or even the best, policy from the point of view of society?

British Gas Customer Relations declined to comment...  Perhaps, in the interests of economy, they don't have a corporate philosopher and shareholders discourage their managers from thinking about social impacts of their business model?

According to Adam Smith, "Trust" is fundamental to economic development, and to the equitable workings of "Market Economies" (Evensky; JHET 2011).  This policy of punishing the loyal, and rewarding the suspicious, penny-pinching, and ruthless, shopper who considers nothing but price, seems to me like a breach of trust.  Certainly spamming customers with complex tariffs is a breach of trust.  Also it discourages the most effective strategies for development and to maintain well-being (in repeated interactions).  Namely: 'tit-for-tat' (with forgiveness) and 'you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours'.

Naively, perhaps, I would have hoped that our biggest commercial organisations were not like that.

On the other hand, it could be helpful to sometimes remind shoppers that the primary raison d'etre of corporations is to make profits.  It is making profits that makes corporations frugal.  When there is little excess profit in our spending corporations will serve our interests most effectively.  But, in markets where customers are lazy and ill-informed sellers will extract excess profits, and allocations will be less than ideal.  Consumers will be poorer.

Rewarding price comparisons, and the lowest bidder, would ultimately lead to bankrupting of all but the least ethical - and so to calls for a strong and more active state.

This situation, where our biggest companies encourage the ruthless shopper, leaves a lot of responsibility on institutions that influence our 'morals' and our 'values' (namely: leaders; parents; churches; & the media).  So strong ethics, within companies, are vital to avoid the worst effects of free competition.