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Predatory commercial practices

This page was created on Apr 13, 2009 and was last updated on Jan 25, 2011  
Through social media, very affordable peer-to-peer, many to many, and indirect communication channels the multitude controls the social narrative. 

Here we explore how you can use information technology to seek justice if you are a victim of a predatory commercial practice. We will present case studies based on real experiences, and we will extract the basic principles behind this type of action.

Important observations

Companies are loosing their advantage on information and coordination!

Until recently, companies, because of their hierarchical form of organization, were very good at processing information and coordinating complex actions. On the other side, their customer base was only a disconnected group of individuals, unable to exchange information, let alone to get together to mount an action against the company. This asymmetrical advantage of companies resulted in abuse. Communities have reacted to that by forming organisms for consumer's rights and support. But the field between companies and us has never been a flat one. The new technology changes everything! 

First, people can now exchange information very effectively and patterns of misbehavior have a greater probability to be identified. Once a pattern is identified, people can coordinate through social media to produce very complex and potentially damaging actions against the company. The customer base in not a disconnected group of individuals anymore, it is an inform mass that can rapidly go through a phase transition to become a coherent force oriented against the company.            

Second, effective action against a company can also be mounted by single individuals, by massively disseminating negative information about the company, or by adding information to already existing repositories, where patterns of misbehavior can emerge.  

Case studies

For the first point

For the second point

The general concept

REMEMBER: a commerce can afford to create an unhappy customer, but NOT a mad customer!

In our opinion three important goals should drive this type of action:

1) To seek justice or some form of compensation.
2) To inform consumers about predatory commercial schemes
To punish those who indulge in predatory commercial practices

To understand this kind of action we must distinguish between the flowing components. 

1) At the most fundamental level we find the individual consumer who has been victimized and is now seeking justice.
2) At the second level, a body of instrumental means plays a crucial role in summing together the input of many
victimized individuals, and in coupling this input with reparation processes:
  • The Internet, seen as an infrastructure of communication, and as a repository of information
  • The personal computer or any other terminal connected to the Internet, as well as digital cameras and cell phones, acting as collectors/recorders of information.
  • And specialized software to enable the transmission, the storage, the organization, the search, and the presentation of information, as well as networking and collaboration tools.
3) The third component is the layer of reparation processes. Once the output of potentially millions of individual consumers have been deposited, structured, analyzed, and made available to the public, different entities concerned by the case can now use it to restore justice, or for their own selfish benefit. These entities can be consumer groups or human rights organizations that act either through the justice system, or outside of it. They can also be attorney firms seeking profits and acting on behalf of consumer groups. Politicians can also get involved if the effects are important enough to affect a large portion of society. Competitors might use the amassed negative information to attack their opponents during negative publicity campaigns. And so on...

Photo by Garrapito

This is how the action was structured in the Dell Computer case

  • Try to obtain a reparation deal at the lowest level of the customer support department.
  • If you get a refusal ask to talk to a more senior representative, a person with greater decision making power.
  • If you cannot obtain a fair deal try to go even higher within the organization.
  • Attention, sometimes they try to channel your frustration through procedures designed by them, with the intent to minimize their damage. Unless you think you have something to gain we suggest you to go outside the maize they've already prepared for you, to use the power of the new technology!
  • When you feel that you cannot resolve the issue at the highest level you were able to reach, tell the person you are speaking with what kind of action you are planning to undertake. Be firm, make this person understand that you are serious about it, and inform him/her about the potential consequences of your actions.
  • If there is no response to your proposals carry out your actions, document everything, and write a letter to the same company telling them your story again, the fact that you were refused a reparation deal, how and on what bases, and also present the actions that you already took. End the letter by saying that you are determined to continue your campaign.
Use the Better Business Bureau or equivalents. It is important to use specialized websites which are persistent and which structure well the information they gather. The idea is that negative information about a commerce can accumulate over time and patterns can be extracted. These patterns are crucial in demonstrating predatory commercial practices, which are intentional, planned actions. Patterns of non-ethical behavior and lists of victims of predatory commercial practices are also crucial in building up campaigns led by consumer groups.