The internet, for what it is, is a place full of deceptions. I am not talking about "Nigerian princes wanting their fortunes to be transferred and they need your help" kind of deception, but reputable companies and their business practices. More often than not, they can be so misleading that we may find it impossible to grasp and for that matter, overcome. Even consumer organizations and government agencies are powerless to do anything to break this status quo.
The bottom line is that internet companies keep lying to their consumers, and we the consumers neither have the patience nor the resources to fight them. They are winning.
Back in 1998, the founders of Google Sergey Brin and Larry Page said, "We expect that advertising funded search engines will inherently be biased towards advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers."
This statement was supposed to serve as a warning and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission took the warning seriously, declaring that adverts posed threats because search results were indeed a form of consumer deception.
Popular search engines like Google and Bing churn out ranked results to our search queries; at the same time, they also display results that are clearly marked as adverts. As long as they are clearly marked, there is nothing deceptive here. In contrast, a search on Amazon will bring you results not ranked according to relevance, but a list depending on the fees that advertisers have paid to the site.
This practice, however, should worry us less, compared to other built-in deceptive techniques. For starters, consumers are increasingly making decisions based on user reviews. Consider Yelp or Amazon; we prefer restaurants that have received the highest number of positive reviews by Yelp users or select certain products from a similar set of products on Amazon, based on its user reviews.
Unfortunately, we are now discovering that more and more user reviews are, in fact, fake. Users are paid to write them. Particularly, we should be wary of long or earnest reviews! The problem seems to be getting worse, as once a company starts using fake reviews, its competitors often feel they need to do same. Eventually, I imagine 99 percent of all reviews will be fake.
What worries me most is the concept of "buying" an item on the internet. For instance, if we buy a book, we are indeed buying it. The physical book arrives at our doorstep, and it is ours to read, keep, lend or give it away or sell. But what if we purchase an e-book? Try selling your iTunes or Amazon books, music, or movies. You cannot. They are worthless.
The truth of the matter is that you did not actually buy this product; rather you obtained a limited permission to use it. You purchased a license. Therefore, Amazon and Apple should clearly mention and use a button that says: "You are obtaining a limited permission to use" instead of "buying," these products.
There is no question that the internet is a better engine of commerce; there are more products, better prices, and often swift delivery. However, intentional lies told by internet companies and fake reviews written by paid fake-users, unfortunately, ruin that experience.
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