Our high-tech world might not look like The Jetsons, but we’re pretty damn close. We carry mobile erotica encyclopedias in our pockets and spend our leisure time getting casually murdered and sworn at by teenagers from Vladivostok to Montevideo. Yes, we live in a time of miracles, but some of those miracles are shittier than others. We’re talking about such modern conveniences as …
If modern technology is a runaway locomotive hurtling toward the future, then Airbnb is the Snowpiercer car that all the hobos are sleeping in. With an estimated 60 million people using the site, it’s currently one of the most popular ways to borrow someone’s home … unless you have a name that suggests you possess a bit more melanin, that is.
In a study conducted by Harvard Business School, several thousand hosts in cities such as Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., were sent messages inquiring about reservations. These messages were sent from 20 fake profiles, half of which had “typical” white names such as Meredith and Todd, and half of which had “typical” black names such as Rasheed and Jamal.
No profile used “Chad,” since that asshole would get deleted on the spot.
The results? The profiles with white-sounding names received positive responses to their inquiries 50 percent of the time, compared to only 42 percent of the time for profiles with black-sounding names — a finding that held true even when variables such as age, sex, and property type were taken into consideration. In fact, some hosts were so determined not to host black people that when the researchers later followed up to see whether they were ever able to fill the room, over a third hadn’t (losing them an average of $65 to $100 per night). Owners would rather lose money than rent their homes to fake black people.
Meanwhile, the only reliable indicator of whether someone was likely to respond positively to a black respondent was whether or not they’d previously hosted other black people. This finding was later dubbed the world’s first scientific proof that, yes, having black friends does mean you’re less of a racist.
Although you could argue that racists gonna race regardless, it’s Airbnb’s system that makes this sort of discrimination possible. Other services, such as Expedia and Priceline, mask the identities of applicants, leaving hosts with the ability to choose guests based only on criteria such as reviews and profile ratings. Someone even made a browser plug-in that allows Airbnb hosts the ability to anonymize profiles and remove any unconscious bias, although it’s hard to imagine this taking off among the “racist property tycoon” demographic.
Amazon is great, isn’t it? It’s like the world’s biggest supermarket of random bullshit. You want a wall decal of a middle-aged Asian man? They’ve got ’em. A Nicolas Cage pillowcase? Done. Of course, chances are you aren’t turning to Amazon for an erotic novel about Leonardo DiCaprio being pegged by an Oscar statue. What you really want from Amazon is cheap stuff that you use every day.
“Don’t tell me what I will and won’t use every day, Cracked.”
According to one analysis, Amazon routinely lowers prices on “big ticket” items, such as televisions and consoles and routers to insane levels that competitors can’t. Not a huge surprise so far, but bear with us. When it came to smaller items, such as HD cables, these were marked up by up to 30 percent over the price of other comparable retailers. Meanwhile, in another test, it was found that while a popular brand of router was marked down considerably compared to other outlets, a less-popular brand was marked up by 29 percent.
So let’s say Black Friday is coming and you want to buy a TV for your better half (the half of you that watches Downton Abbey.) Amazon will analyze which TV is getting the most views and then significantly lower its price so that it’s way cheaper than the same brand over at Walmart. At this point you might be thinking, “GOTCHA, AMAZON!” Not so fast, partner. Because if you aren’t going to do a price check on the other stuff you need to make your TV work, you’re going to miss that Amazon made up for their losses on the cables.
Gotta pay those neo-Nazi security guards somehow, after all.
Picture the scene: You’re flying away on your annual vacation when you notice something odd about this whole traveling experience. It fucking sucks. And we mean everything from check-in to security to stowing your overhead baggage. You’d describe it as a Sisyphean nightmare, but Sisyphus didn’t have to cram one of those big bars of Toblerone into a seat pocket. Meanwhile, there’s a family over there who didn’t go through any of this. They’re enjoying themselves, the bastards. What gives?
That’s easy: Modern-day airlines are deliberately making the flying experience as shitty as possible in the hopes that you’ll upgrade to things like priority boarding and fast-track security gates. It’s not quite first class, mind you — just something like “Economy Plus” or “Your Choice,” as American Airlines hilariously describes it. It’s an incredibly clever business model and, as much as this might make you mad, it works. By 2013, for instance, the major airlines made a colossal $31.5 billion from “add-on” services that were once freebies. Just don’t be surprised if, in the midst of engine failure, you discover that your drop-down oxygen mask is powered by a credit card.
“Should your card be declined, please call the toll-free number on the back and gasp for Customer Service.”
It isn’t just a case of airlines slicing their previously standard service up and selling it back to us piecemeal. When it comes to things like legroom, for instance, they’ve made it deliberately smaller. At least, that’s the verdict of one study, which found that the roomiest seats on today’s airliners are smaller than the largest gratis economy seating that you could get in the ’90s.
But, what happens if you all rise up and say, “No more!” and suffer through your journey on principle? Bad news, because those flights are designed to be unbearable messes unless someone takes the premium options. If no one takes priority boarding, there’ll be even more people cramming themselves on board inefficiently. If no one pays for the extra baggage allowance, that’s more to be crammed into the overheads and less room for everyone. If no one takes any options, that’s a major loss for the airlines, who’ll be forced to raise fare prices to make up for the shortfall.
“Hanging off the edge of the wing, that’ll be $450. For an extra $200,
we’ll provide a bungee cord.”
As anyone who owns the latest computer knows, most come prepackaged with more junk than a Dirk Diggler-Dr. Manhattan slash-fic. These programs — which commonly range from adware and browser toolbars to obscure file readers and mini-games — are termed “bloatware,” and the manufacturers know full well that you’re not going to use half of that crap in the first place. There’s surprisingly little crossover between the people who spend thousands on top-of-the-line machines and people who go apeshit for full-screen Candy Crush Saga, you know?
The striped candies take up a terabyte of memory each.
As with most things, the root cause of the problem is money — namely, the companies making your hardware don’t have any. The resulting business model is pretty simple: They sell off hard drive space to software developers who’d kill for the opportunity to get eyeballs on their latest product, while software developers hope that SuperCyberAdFucker+ Premium Gold Trial Edition is so endearing to you that you’d want to drop $189 on the full version. It’s like internet advertising, except you can’t install AdBlock.
As much as you may love your new copy of CyberLink PowerDVD, all of those programs that accompanied it are probably reducing your computer’s speed to an asthmatic crawl. If you don’t clear them out or wipe your computer (that’s only a nuclear option, by the way), they’ll just keep running in the background and take up valuable memory that could be used for other, much more rewarding activities.
If you watch porn on this thing, both the computer and the actors get fucked.
That is, if they don’t destroy your privacy first. In February 2015, it transpired that Lenovo — one of the world’s biggest computer manufacturers — had pre-installed a program called Superfish onto its machines. As much as we’d like, we can’t compare it to Swordfish, because the only thing that got blown here was the security of those machines — the program effectively exposed users’ web traffic to anyone with rudimentary technical savvy and/or a loose set of morals, even if it had been uninstalled from the computer. Suffice it to say, the shit hit the case fan and Lenovo ended up promising only to do it one more time.
Don’t forget: Those affected users paid for that privilege.
And then, once the program latched onto their bank account, they paid for it again.
So what if, quite unreasonably, you wanted a computer that didn’t allow teen hackers to redecorate their basements using your bank details? Well, for $30 extra, Microsoft has got you covered.
The home computing equivalent of a guy stabbing you and then charging you $100 to maybe not stab you anymore.
And, hey, speaking of creating a problem and selling the solution …
For those who think Ticketmaster is a scheming nest of bastards, there’s always StubHub for all your ticketing needs. Unlike Ticketmaster, it’s the fans making the sales, and by “fans,” we mean “ticket hawkers using the site to resell at super-inflated prices.” And if you need something to get angry about, try the fact that StubHub can (and will) fuck you over if you find a bargain.
Last November, Jesse Sandler used StubHub to find and buy four tickets to the last home game of the L.A. Lakers’ 2015-16 season. Since this game was heavily rumored to be Kobe Bryant’s last before retirement, Sandler figured that the price tag of $906 was worth it. And do you know what? It was. After Kobe’s retirement announcement, sports fans went crazy for tickets and sent the price shooting into the stratosphere. But that was OK. After all, our hero of this story had his tickets … right?
Wrong. A month later, Sandler received an email from StubHub informing him that his order had been canceled because, get this, the person who sold the tickets to him had canceled the deal because the tickets were too cheap. Under StubHub’s rules, the seller would have to pay 20 percent of the $906 sale price to StubHub as a penalty for backing out, but they were allowed to relist the tickets at $1,490 each. So StubHub benefits from getting the penalty fee and having the tickets relisted at a higher price.
“You can use your refund to buy a bigger TV to watch it at home.”
Although Sandler ended up with tickets to the game (kindly gifted to him by another ticketing company), this is a recurring problem with StubHub. In the event of an event going viral and prices rocketing up, their system incentivizes sellers to cancel previous deals and relist at an inflated price. They have to pay a fine, sure, but as long as StubHub is making money from this loophole, it means that the only way buyers can have any faith that they’ll receive their tickets is by having access to a freakin’ time machine.
Or root for teams who will never succeed enough to fleece their fans, like the 76ers.
Case in point: the Kafkaesque mind-fuck that they made one couple endure after they had the sheer audacity to buy Atlanta Hawks tickets without taking out a bank loan first. After having their purchase canceled by StubHub, they were informed that the seller didn’t have the $21.75 tickets after all — the fact that they’d recently been relisted at $340 was totes complete and utter coincidence, you guys. Except … the couple had already received the tickets. They were pinned to the fucking refrigerator. StubHub coughed up replacement tickets and later swore revenge against the laws of time and space.
To the vast majority of the internet, Google is just like an old family dog: Dependable, loyal, and ever-eager to please, it’s hard to imagine him ever turning around and ripping your throat out. That is, unless you own a business. This scenario isn’t exactly a stretch of the imagination, especially considering that anyone can manipulate your business listing to do anything from redirecting your telephone calls to telling potential customers that you’ve gone out of business.
Here’s an example. If you look up, say, porno theaters in your city, you’ll be greeted with a map showing their locations, as well as their contact details and operating hours. However, if you do the same for, say, a locksmith or carpet cleaner, there’s a good chance that you’ll be provided with dozens of fake listings, all of which lead to a centralized call center. From there, you’ll be passed along to an operator who’ll dispatch a (most likely unqualified) representative to fix your problem and charge you a shitload more than you were originally quoted on the phone. It’s the same for flowers: Mom ‘n’ pop ain’t making shit from this scam, just some faceless conglomerate.
Spend all your money at porno theaters, is what we’re saying.
What about if you own a restaurant? That’s not something that could be faked, right? No, but it’s something that your rivals could fuck with. Case in point: The Serbia Crown, a Washington, D.C., eatery that was forced to close after 40-odd years after someone manipulated its business listing to say that it was closed on weekends. In restaurant terms, this is like advertising that your food doesn’t still contain traces of Ebola. Likewise, a small-time jewelry store suffered major losses after a mysterious party updated its listing to say the store was permanently closed.
“Come to the Serbia Crown: open 15 minutes a day, and they’ll season your food
with arsenic free of charge.”
What about contacting the authorities? Well … just be careful what number you dial, yeah? As a way of proving how insanely screwed the system is, one stand-up comedian was able to create fake listings for a real office of the Secret Service and, through various technical means, listen in and record conversations between agents and the public.
As for Google, they aren’t interested in doing shit to fix this problem. According to someone who spends most of his day fixing dodgy listings, they’re either too incompetent to fix the problem or, simply, they don’t care. After all, they make money from searches performed on keywords such as “locksmith,” so, like with StubHub, it’s incentivized apathy. Besides which, how do you protest this? Not use Google? That’s like protesting fog by refusing to draw breath. It’s impossible.
Bing is your only other option, which means there are no other options.
Thanks to something called surge pricing, the internet has a new sport: laughing at people who take extortionately priced Uber rides and have the temerity to whine about it afterward, as if the invisible hand of the market cajoled them into pressing “confirm” on that $750 ride to the grocery store. That said, surge pricing does have a legit reason to exist beyond our perverse entertainment: It’s a way of getting more drivers onto the road and collecting passengers during peak periods of demand (or hostage crises, apparently).
Unfortunately, that’s bullshit, because, as we’re about to demonstrate, this system is totally fucking broken.
Firstly, there’s no guidance on how the surge rate is even calculated and, even worse, no upper limit on surge pricing. That’s bad news, because it’s possible to take two identical rides on consecutive days and pay two (sometimes wildly) different surge prices. What’s the difference between 2x and 4x in terms of traffic conditions, weather, and other factors? Uber doesn’t like to say. It also doesn’t like to talk about the maximum that your ride could be force-multiplied. As far as we know, the upper limit is 50x, but that’s only based on a) the testimony of a random engineer, and b) because some riders accidentally got that price one time. The drivers affected presumably spent weeks cleaning those brown stains out of their backseats.
Luckily, when you make $57 a minute, you can afford the good stain removers.
It used to be that Uber would manually manipulate the surge pricing rate lower when it hit a figure such as 6x. Nowadays, it’s common for the surge pricing to hit upwards of 9.9x with no interference from the company. Why? We don’t know. And that’s a huge fucking problem for the service that’s trying to replace cabs, because say what you will, but at least there are regulations limiting the amount that cab drivers can charge, as well as actual guidance on how those rates are calculated.
A taxi fare rapidly rising right before your eyes might be Hell on your wallet, but at least it’s honest.
This wouldn’t be so bad if surge pricing actually worked at getting more drivers out onto the road, either. It flat-out doesn’t. The key problem is with the way that surge pricing fluctuates: It’s been found that, during periods of surge pricing, drivers tend to stick to locations where they’re certain of a fare (e.g. stations, city centers, etc.). It’s not because they’re greedy — it’s because by the time they’ve traveled out to a distant customer (e.g. in the suburbs), the surge pricing period could have ended, thus making all that effort worthless. Regardless of where the customer is, they’re being screwed. If they’re in the ‘burbs, surge pricing ain’t bringing any drivers to them (whereas regular pricing might have). If they’re in the city, they’re paying a surge price when they wouldn’t have had any difficulty finding a ride in the first place.
Uber’s CEO, showing somehow even less sympathy than you’d expect him to.
Still, it could be worse. You could be paying a hideous, ridiculous surge price on a journey you didn’t even take, thanks to the newly created underground market for stolen accounts.
Guys, is it just us, or is the sharing economy complete bullshit?
For more ways you’re being royally bent over, check out 4 Ways You Didn’t Realize Online Stores Are Screwing You and 5 Ways Hi-Tech Retailers Are Secretly Screwing You.