It's been a while since I posted a 2006 blog style rant. It's probably full of 2006 blog style typos too. Enjoy.
Facebook: Do I even need to go here?
Google: Dropped the “Do No Evil” schtick years ago.
Apple: Uses Chinese prison labor to make $1000 status symbols
AirBnB: Becoming more overrun with scams, crappy customer service, ruining neighborhoods worldwide.
Lyft / Uber: Pretends their employees aren’t employees, have done a poor job of policing abuse and other crimes by their drivers. Also, they use and abuse public infrastructure without paying their fare share (no employees - no state payroll taxes!), diverts resources from public transportation.
The thing is, all these organizations could be great companies if they focused on building great businesses that serve their customers and the greater good. Instead, maximizing short term profits is their only interest. Well, except for Lyft and Uber, who have no profits and only exist due to VC subsidies. If they eventually die they’ll have destroyed the taxi industry in many cities, and replaced it with nothing. The Silicon Valley DouchBro CEO culture gives no fucks about the greater good.
I know the Libertarian / Republican (same thing really) argument is that they’ve created all these great opportunities to make money with your spare bedroom and car. However, we’ve gotten through most of human history without needing to rent a spare bedroom to strangers in order to make rent that month. People that think they make a good living driving for Lyft or Uber are never factoring in the depreciation on their vehicle, or the operating expenses of said vehicle. $20 an hour as an independent contractor that has to cover all their own taxes plus cover the overhead of a car, is not good money. They’d all be better off financially at Walmart making $15 an hour.
The question we should be asking is why do millions of people need to rent their spare bedroom to random strangers to make ends meet? That’s not a normal thing. Why do so many working class people need to run their cars into the ground driving drunk frat boys home at night? These companies built an entire business on exploiting people or situations, without paying the costs of the negative externalities they introduced into the system. If Uber was paying their fair share the rides would cost about the same as a taxi, and that would be fine. It’ll probably still be way easier to get a ride with Uber or Lyft than an actual cab. They’d still have a competitive advantage. Instead, they lose money on every ride. They can’t make it up on volume. Math doesn’t work that way. Uber and AirBnB are exploiting a market gap, but they are also exploiting 30 years of stagnant wages and the scarcity of good full time jobs with benefits.
Another Libertarian argument is that these companies exploited opportunities the established players missed, and that is true. Google simple built a better search engine. But the need for eternal growth to satisfy Wall Street caused Google to sell out years ago. Lyft and Uber as ideas were brilliant, however the execution was built on avoiding competing fairly. For many years they didn’t even run simple background checks on their drivers. Government had to force that. They left the Austin market instead of meet the same requirements as the taxi services. AirBnB has spent millions lobbying at the local level to avoid being treated like a hotel service. VRBO has been around forever without racking up the negative externalities that AirBnB has in only a few years. Many of their “hosts” operate in violation of their leases, and many renters find themselves out of a place to live when owners decide they can make more on AirBnB than they do with a nice, stable 12 month lease. If AirBnB was really limited to the idea of renting out your spare bedroom or MIL suite it would still be a big business and it could be ethically run. However, scam artist property managers have found all kinds of ways to game the system with AirBnB, and AirBnB doesn’t really care because they need to go public at a 1 gazillion dollar valuation so that the VCs can all get even richer.These businesses may be great ideas on paper, but the execution has been lacking any consideration other than a gold rush to short term riches, and the hell with who gets hurt in the way.
I wrote this entire rant and forgot to even mention Amazon, the poster boy for shitty Internet companies.
What’s the answer? Regulation is the answer. But that seems like a long shot given the regulatory capture pretty much every business segment holds over the government.
Can we do stuff individually? Sure? Does it really make a difference? Probably not. I quit using Gmail as my primary email and Google for search years ago, and I have my browsers armored up to block Google and everybody else from tracking me. I’m pretty sure the only real outcome of that is that I feel a little better. We don’t buy much from Amazon. We canceled Prime a year ago and have never missed it. I’ve stayed at AirBnBs at least a dozen times and only had one bad experience. I can afford to stay in a decent hotel, I’m just cheap. However, if you are a lower-middle class family of 5 trying to go on vacation an AirBnB with 3 bedrooms and a kitchen is going to be 1000% better than cramming the family into a hotel room, and it’ll likely be 50% cheaper too. Should that family feel guilt about their tiny part in destroying the neighborhood that the rental house is in? Should I? Should I feel guilty that I’m not willing to wait 20 minutes for a taxi when Lyft can pick me up in a minute?
This is just a rant, I don’t have the answers here. Government changes slowly, often for good reason, so maybe we’ll eventually find a way to regulate these companies so that they aren’t destroying society as they grow. More likely they’ll just destroy a bunch of shit and go out of business, and the billionaire founders will move on to their next idea to blow up a piece of society and make a profit at the same time.