Commentary

Beware, Bottom Feeder On The Loose!

If you read this Atlantic article, you may want to immediately disinfect yourself, deep-six your computer, and then destroy your PayPal accounts and credit cards. The article profiles one Jesse Willms. Judging from it, we’re dealing with a 20-something Internet bottom feeder, nonpareil of the pinch, Professor Harold Hill of the digital age and Artful Dodger who, instead of reporting to Fagin, happens to also be Fagin, plus Bill Sykes, and maybe a dozen or so other people, all of whom drive a Lamborghini and take private flights from Canada to Vegas.

He's apparently a guy raining cash from seeding the Web with barely licit ads (you know the type: "The cure for leprosy doctors don't want you to know about") and byzantine means of charging credit cards by dribs and drabs and making it hard for the victim -- I mean customer -- to extract their credit lines once they’ve signed up for “free trials.” That scam. 

But he's also a tutorial in various search engine marketing ploys, and affiliate advertising channels; and he’s also a one-man practicum on a certain Internet-paradox: there's no real privacy here, but you can have as many identities as you want. Oh, and he's the bane for online marketers generally because that behavior has a deleterious influence on all kinds of e-commerce of the legitimate kind, for pretty obvious reasons. As President Bush Jr. once said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, won't get fooled again." 

As strange as this sounds, his ilk are also kind of the worst example of bad customer service. It presents the nadir of not just how your privacy but you, in general, get abused. Just hearing about people like this conditions you to disassociate "trust" from "Internet." But in certain cases I also think it's true that a really bad experience can simonize a really good one. I'm in New Orleans writing this because my JetBlue flight left right on time, and in spite of gigantic crowds at Kennedy after the big snowstorm. And the customer service experience I had was sterling. I had somehow managed to book a flight, cancel it, book another one-way ticket from another city, and incur a $1,000 bill in the process. I called up pretty desperate. 

After a brief wait time, Lauren came on the phone. She could have easily said, simply, "Sorry, you did the crime, you do the time," or some consumer-transactional version of that. Instead she put me on hold, went to her supervisor and the two of them worked for nearly 30 minutes to give me a refund through a really convoluted process that required them to sidestep the system. I won't be signing up for shipments of a rare Brazilian nut that plastic surgeons hate, but I'll buy from someone who proves I can trust them and, if something happens, will prove they deserve that trust.

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