Reposted from September, 2010
Grandma (as I now call her) dropped by the house yesterday. She’d lost her life savings and was distraught. I was not unmoved, but was also aware of the fact that such a loss is less significant when said savings amount to “what’s left in the social security deposit this month.” It seems she’d been taken advantage of. And, ideally, I would like to protect her from being taken advantage of – at least by anyone other than me. So I invited her inside to learn more about how others might have done it.
It turns out that maybe the computer and access to the “interweb” I’d installed as a birthday present might turn out to be a bigger problem than I’d thought. Even if it did, it could never outweigh the pleasure I still get when viewing the thank you note she’d penned with flawless handwriting into a flower-covered card that referred to her discovery of the “interweb” late in her life and the value it brought. So everyone in the family now calls it the interweb and we are all damned for being snarky for no good reason.
I blame an upbringing immersed in television. I can predict that years from now my future self will be sad, scared, or lonely (as she sometimes seems to be). I also predict I’ll still have the card in the side pocket of the tatty pilled bathrobe that she bought for me on QVC or HSN. It’s unclear whether it’ll be there to comfort me with reminders of how analogue/provincial she once was or to remind me that I could have been a better son. Could go either way.
Today, though, it never occurred to me that I’d be personally responsible for opening the door and then ushering her into to The World of Vice. Especially since I’d so carefully provided bookmarks to the only sites I believed she’d ever need. Somehow – likely due to the undeniably engaging TV ad blitz – she discovered Beezid. Now, to add to her mothering and shopping problems she’s got gambling ones.
Here’s what imprinted itself indelicately in her consciousness: “Bid and win Penny Auctions on beezid.com Save up to 99% on brand new products like laptops, HD TVs, iPads and video game consoles. #1 penny auction site online”. Seems almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? She could sit there in her own tatty pilled bathrobe and spend happy hours bidding pennies on premium electronic goods and gift cards to surprise the kids with.
How could she shake the image of herself dressed as Mrs. Claus and heroically dispensing exactly what her grandchildren wanted for Christmas – without spending the fortune such items actually cost? How could she know that hundreds and hundreds of dollars later she’d have nothing to show but chagrin? That all those perfectly wrapped boxes under her imaginary tree could be empty? Who would do such a thing? How could the site that bills itself as the “# 1 penny auction site online” – and advertises on television, yet – not deliver incredible value? How could she not trust that the interweb is regularly policed to ensure its community doesn’t include swindlers, con artists, chiselers, scammers, and other unsavory denizens the very same way other media police themselves?
I sat down with her to answer these and any other questions she might actually ask aloud – at least until the football pre-game show started. Meanwhile, I had her enter “Cameron Diaz” into Google. This, at present, is THE WORST SEARCH TERM IN THE WORLD according to intel from McAfee (now part of Intel) and will guarantee that any link you follow from among those on the first page of results will quickly load your computer with scams, spam, trojans, keyloggers, popups, pinups, etc. All of which is served up by Google, whose motto: “don’t be evil” may not always be followed by those who pay to have their content promoted by it. “The first rule of the interweb,” I tell grandma, “is not to trust anyone.”
She watched as I followed all the links from the first results page. She was surprised at what a nice person this Cameron seemed to be and inquired about her marital status. It was becoming cozy and fun and a good learning experience for us both. But it was time to teach her the more important lesson, so I pulled the plug and battery and poured Krazy Glue onto the keyboard and into the ports and the CD slot and closed the lid and threw the whole mess into the kitchen trashcan.
“What are you doing?! Are you nuts?”
“I’m protecting you… thanks to Cameron Diaz, your computer was at least 10% more likely to aid and abet criminals in stealing your identity, draining your bank accounts, spamming your email, or annoying you with endless popups or reduced performance. Now you are safe.”
“But I liked my computer!”
“You’re better off without, I think. Blame Beezid. If you can’t tell the difference between shopping and gambling, I have to take appropriate measures.”
“How could I have known? You haven’t always been Mr. Interweb, right? Who can I talk to about which sites I can trust?”
I thought about that for a minute, and came up with the conclusion that we’d have to start by trusting other people we know (and by extension, those they trusted). The very concept of a Web Of Trust seems to me almost laughable… but again, TV has made me snarky. But the Web hasn’t made the condition much better in the past decades. The very existence (and lack of regulation) of sites like Beezid that will appeal to peoples’ baser instincts (shopping + gambling = shambling?) demands investigation. Or at least impotent outrage. Or, at the very least, a blog post. Piffle.
But it’s a crackpipe for Grandma. She buys $40 worth of bids and wastes them and three hours trying to win a $100 gift card from Target. Target gets advertising, she bids down to $0, Beezid keeps the money from her and the maybe 700 other people bidding to win the same card valued at $100 (all hoping to get it for $28). She thinks she can ‘play smarter’ over the course of the next several days and winds up with the requisite expensive education all gamblers – and some shoppers – earn. Thanks to Beezid, there’s no Xmas at Grandma’s this year.
It isn’t Beezid’s fault it saw a market niche and plugged it. By all evidence, it does actually deliver some products to lucky winning bidders despite losses suffered by others. It could certainly use some transparency and oversight and auditing, maybe… but there’s nothing wrong with its business model. What’s wrong is that we don’t have a trust and reputation monitoring service tied to Google or Yahoo! or AOL or whatever that guides vulnerables among us like my mom (and even sometimes me) to less confusing and potentially expensive places.
Enter the plucky Finns! This would be a good line even if I weren’t writing it myself. “Enter the plucky Finns!”
They’ve put together “community powered tools that boost trust on the Web.” The primary focus is on safe surfing with a browser tool that shows which sites have been reviewed by others as trustworthy. There is, of course, a registry for businesses seeking certification from Web Of Trust: “Your site is eligible for a WOT Trust Seal if it has an excellent or good reputation in trustworthiness, vendor reliability and privacy.” But all in all I like the interface and approach. Too bad they couldn’t get rights for WOOT (Web Of Online Trust) and added an exclamation. WOOT! Unfortunately, woot.com is already taken. Oddly, by a business that describes itself as an online store that auctions stuff cheap.
Here’s the Beezid reputation rating on WOT:
What about you – whether thinking as a business or as an individual? Do you think we’re at a point where trust and reputation scoring becomes inevitable? How do you imagine it becoming more important? Does the Web require more regulation or do we need to serve as better guides than ad-based search tools might? Are reputation and trust as much an issue in your business dealings online as they are in mine?