But what do I know? I'm just a twice clicken brown shirt teabaggin tjroll. Right? --PatP

Not now. There are dirty, swaying men at my door. They’re looking for Brian. I need to go deal with that. --Thor

If Joss Wedon was near me, I'd of kicked his ass. --PaulC

Monday, November 2, 2009

The internet: parting fools from their money since... forever

PaulC and I had a conversation about some shadiness on the part of Zynga, the developer of Farmville. He sent me this article from techcrunch. Read it first or I don't care what you think.

Okay. I'm not saying anyone is right or wrong, with the exception of the author of this article, who is an asshole. I have personally been fooled into spending money on several of these offers, and I can say with no doubt that every dollar I gave them was because I was stupid, not because I was tricked. Every offer (exactly like those on Farmville) said exactly how much the subscription or service would cost if I didn't cancel it within the trial period.

This guy did no research except to look at the links in the Farmville game client, which link to the actual offers, which ALL state clearly what will happen when you input your credit card information. He's inventing a conspiracy where none exists. If you're stupid enough to give the internet your credit card and/or phone number, you deserve to have your money taken away from you. I am right. I have no sympathy for people who claim to have been "scammed" because they are stupid. That being said, it has happened to me. I paid for a two-month subscription to Blockbuster and a three-month subscription to Stamp.com to get a free iPod. But I didn't get it. Did I cry about it? no. I said "well, that was stupid," and didn't do it again when they offered a free XBox.

This is nothing new. It's probably the oldest "scam" (I put "scam" in "quotes" because a friend of mine in high school actually did get a free xbox. Twice.) on the internet. This isn't going to be the end of the world that this fear-monger is predicting. It's not going to mutate or evolve into... anything. It's making oodles of money for a few people. If they get greedy and try to make more money off it, it won't work anymore. Just like that guy who was skimming a nickel a month from every account at some bank. Then he got greedy and started skimming a dime a month. Then people started asking questions and he got caught.

Again, I'm not saying anybody is doing anything wrong, except the fear-monger who wrote this article. I'm just saying I have no problem with somebody who's smart enough to separate a fool from his money, having been the fool on at least one occasion.

I get that it's "wrong" that Zynga takes money from "shady" advertising firms. But the bottom line is people give out their credit card info and phone numbers when they should know better, and when they are plainly told what will happen. Nobody gets mad at the guy who invented the pet rock. They think he's a genius because he thought of a way to get people to give him money and give them nothing in return.

Anybody reading this have leather seats in their car? How much extra did you pay for them? People don't like car dealers in general, but you don't get mad when you pay extra for leather seats, which do nothing useful and unless you're naked feel the same as cloth seats. If you are naked, they feel great. Until you shift in your seat the slightest bit. Then you get your skin ripped off. While it may be obvious how I feel from the tone of this post, I am not saying anybody (other than the asshole who wrote the above-linked article) is right or wrong. Just stupid. And while I won't say that Zynga is without blame, this article is an obvious and shameless smear attempt, behind which is almost no research and even less relevance.

Whenever I hear somebody complain about someone making money off other people's stupidity, I want to punch them in the boob. There are scams and there are scams. Lying to someone to got their money is a scam. Making the title of your advertisement make people want to give you money is called "marketing." I don't care what the link text was. If you don't read the website before submitting... No. If you click a link on a website and give them your credit card info, you are a retard and you deserve to have your money taken away from you for your own protection.

PS I just noticed that there is a later post explaining that Zynga has "admitted" that one third of their revenue comes from "lead gen and other offers." A third post says they have committed to cleaning up those offers. This is not an admission of guilt. It's a choice by Zynga to avoid a PR disaster. Just wanted to pre-empt that argument.


  1. Dood, happy birthday.

    I agree, the author is, as they say, an ass hat. BUT, taking money from stupid people is wrong, period. Yes, you can say "they should know better" but they don't.

    Recall my post about Facebook developers having access to all of your friends (this is the money link here ) "Yes, but I dont care". Dood, fine, don't care, but *I* care because I am your friend on facebook, and when you play Farmville or Mafia Wars, YOU are compromising MY data, thats not cool. And these same companies are bilking users from their cash with shady business practices and bjorked marketing schemes.

    Look, when someone tries to sell me on a multi level marketing scheme the get a big dish of "STFU LMAO", and if the try to do it via Facebook, its the same thing.

    Hey, you're ok giving all of your friends info to these ass hats, duly noted.

  2. Boink

    and he notes that much of the money comes from minors billing their parents cell phone. That is way beyond "unethical".

    Happy Birthday man.

  3. couple of points.
    1. I disagree. It is not wrong to take something from someone who doesn't know any better than to give it to you.

    2. Totally separate issue you bring up, but my philosophy is "don't put anything on the internet you don't want people to know." When I give Farmville permission to view my data, that may mean they can see yours too. I'm not real clear on that. At any rate, they can't see anything you don't put online. If you're going to be paranoid about your personals, don't put them on the internet.

    I used to (as recently as five months ago) get really paranoid about this. But who cares? If somebody really wants to know my birthday, there are any number of ways to find out.

    *sigh* Are we really going to get into minors visiting websites they're not supposed to and/or using their parents' cell phones without their permission? You don't hold porn sites accountable for minors that visit them. Neither can you hold these advertisers responsible for minors signing up for their offers. It's illegal and it says on the site not to do it. What else can they do? Ask them something only someone of a certain age could possibly know? Ask them their birthday? We all know kids don't lie about their age.

    If you say, on your website "hey kids. Go get your mom's cell phone and do this now!" That's unethical. It IS unethical to trick a child into giving you something they don't know better than to give you.

  4. And yes, I am okay with sharing stuff that other people put on the internet.

  5. Kids are not stealing their parents credit cards, they are innocently giving people their cell phone numbers and then getting billed $$ per month as a result. You are 100% wrong, it is unacceptable to be disingenuous, period. If farmville said "We want you to install this so that we can get all of your friends information" its true, but they dont say it.

    AND, as for the kids.
    about 7 years ago Hanson called a phone number to get his free portable cd player. He called from my phone, and he never got his cd player, but I got a phone bill for $500. And you think that thats "ok"? Great, when you have kids I can't wait to introduce them to the wonders of internet scams.

  6. No. That's not okay. It's also not what we're talking about. I'm so confused.

    Like I said. There are scams and there are scams. Hans (just for example) using your phone to call a number to get a "free" CD player is not cool. But the ad for the "free" CD player was more than likely not targeting children. It was targeting idiots. It happened to hit somebody who hadn't learned that particular lesson yet.

    Targeting kids is not cool. Kids responding to ads that target idiots is also not cool. The difference is who's to blame. You can't blame the advertiser for Hans not understanding that CD players aren't free and that there's gotta be a loophole somewhere, because people don't just hand out free stuff.

    Is that a shitty thing for people to do? Yes. Is it happening on Farmville? No. I've clicked on several ads on Farmville that claim to be free, including the IQ test. Without exception, every one of them says "after you click these, we're going to bill you."

    I think there's a mis-understanding here. Billing people for free CD players that you never send them is unethical. No argument from me. Tricking people into not reading the website they're putting their credit card info into is more of a grey area, but still uncool.

    Everything I've seen on Farmville is totally kosher. Every single offer clearly states that it is not free. If you don't read the offer and give them your credit card info, I have no sympathy.

    Do they know that most people who sign up for trial subscriptions are going to forget to unsubscribe? Yes. Is that a vicious, predatory marketing practice? As someone who has fallen for it, I say no. I knew what I was getting into, signed up for it, and forgot to cancel. No foul.

  7. It's not right to scam kids but its not right to scam "idiots" either. Andy, sorry kid but you are wrong. Paul, is right. Scaming people who don't know any better is WRONG. I get tired of this attitude of, "if you are stupid enough to do x then you deserve what you get".
    Have I meantioned,
    Happy Birthday Andy! :o)

  8. hehe. Love you both. You've argued me down to "on the fence" about idiots. But this is my final point (again). Do I know that most of the people who sign up for a trial account are going to forget to unsubscribe? Yes. Is it wrong of me to capitalize on that? No. Is it wrong to bill people for "free" cd players and never ship them? Yes. It is also illegal.

  9. PS PaulC: It's also illegal to enter into a contract with a minor. That can sometimes put the fear of God in someone who has done so inadvertently.

  10. As we discussed on the phone...
    While it might be ok to bilk a fool from his money (its not), YOU have to draw the line somewhere.

    You KNOW that farmville and mafiawars are using advertisers that prey on the weak and you say "but thats ok because THEY don't do it, their ad agency does." Right. Bush didn't torture anyone, but he ENABLED it.

    As a society we need to look out for everyone, not just the rich and/or empowered. When Hanson made that phone call that cost me $500 it sucked, but imagine if I made minimum wage? That $500 could have been a deal breaker.

    And you cant say "thats an outlier, they aren't targeting kids, they are targeting stupid adults" because it doesn't matter.

    If the ad agencies want to be upfront and say "let us spam all your contacts and we will give you 30 farmbucks" or "give us $40 and we will give you 40 farmbucks" thats fine because its above board, its selling a thing for an agreed upon price. But if you have to hide the price? Thats unethical.

    And of course, companies like Zynga are willing to be giant Douche Bags which forces other companies to do the same or go out of business. Thats why I play all my games at Kongregate.

  11. one more thing...
    I dont disagree with your "you should be smart enough to cancel the service" argument. in the 70's and 80's this was the famed "get 12 records for one penny, then purchase 24 more albums at normal club prices!!" That was a bit shadey, but its ok. They told you right up front, this is what you get, this is what we get.

    But the new version is "Give us your cell phone number so that we can text you the results" and then they bill you $10 a month for a service. MAYBE the $10/month is in the fine print, but my question is why is it in the fine print? Why not be upfront about it? Because its unethical, you are paying $10/month and getting nothing.

    And you are supporting those unethical douche bags by playing their online games. Hey, way to make the world a better place.

    Rock on little brother.