Sunday, May 20, 2012

Facebook and Wal-Mart: With Friends Like These...

Big business has been in the news recently, and that's not necessarily a good thing. JPMorganChase lost upwards of $3 billion dollars on hedge trades that should not be legal, but that the bank actively lobbied to protect. Hewlett-Packard is laying off 30,000 employees in an attempt to become more competitive, and in a blow to television networks everywhere, Dish Network has developed a DVR that will automatically skip over commercials. Yes, what you just heard was the spinal shiver of a thousand communications executives. From the article:
Ted Harbert, the chairman of NBC Broadcasting, struck a similar note at his network’s presentation on Monday, calling the Dish feature an insult to the television industry. “Just because technology gives you the ability to do something, does that mean you should? Not always,” he said.
An insult? Hardly. Aren't we supposed to honor creativity and problem solving? That's what Mitt Romney says. And he's destroyed leveraged lots of companies.

Two companies stand out at present: Wal-Mart is in the news for nefarious activities (again) and Facebook just went public, but the stock price, which was supposed to soar, didn't even get as high as your average Michigan tree (the right height, you know). Mark Zuckerberg made a bundle. You probably made $1.28. Though to be fair, a problem at Nasdaq might have had something to do with the price, according to this article. We'll have to wait until Monday for confirmation.

It's simply not OK for a company to act as Wal-Mart has acted over the years and expect that simple apologies would wipe away the tainted profits. Wal-Mart denied its employees medical insurance coverage by manipulating hours and schedules. It fought against unionization and continued to pay low wages until protests uncovered its hypocrisy. Some managers even locked in the cleaning staff overnight in an attempt to make sure they squeezed every penny from their labor. Now Wal-Mart is accused of bribery and covering up potential crimes in Mexico (and possible the United States, if this story is correct).

These activities are unacceptable. They were unacceptable when Wal-Mart first practiced them and they are unacceptable now, and any 10-year-old would tell you that people should not treat their employees this way. There is no apology that will sway me otherwise. Yes, Wal-Mart's prices are low, but the store near me in New Jersey is dirty and I get a dirty feeling just walking into its front door. It's as if I'm giving up some of my self-respect just by shopping there. So I don't. I know others who feel the same way.

Facebook is another matter. Now that it's made some people very, very wealthy, it's going to be more of a prime target than it already has been. I won't buy anything from Facebook, I don't take its recommendations when they pop up on my page, and I really don't like the new layout I've been forced to accept. I love my friends, but I don't respond to their requests for birthdays or games or school pages because I find the Facebook notice that comes with these invitations, the one that says "this application will have access to all of my information" much too intrusive. Perhaps I wasn't built for social networking. Perhaps I'm too old to appreciate the ease at which Facebook can improve my life. No matter. Facebook will not see a penny from me.

And that's the real danger isn't it? Haven't we been told that Facebook's value lies in its collected data? Our likes and dislikes, entertainment preferences and group memberships? We have become a world of sharers, but at some point in the not-too-distant future, I can see the backlash. Facebook will go too far (if they haven't already) and use our information for purposes that will go beyond the pale. The reaction will be swift and intense. Public pressure will force Facebook and/or Congress to scale back its data mining. Facebook will lose the ability to track our movements, and thus its ability to make money. It will have billions of users, but its stock price will be stuck at $16.

When I think of all the advertising and public relations these companies pay for, you'd think they would pay closer attention to their actions. Perhaps they will adjust and thrive. They'll just have to do it without my money.

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  1. I'm definitely going to honor Dish's creativity. People already fast forward through the ads on recordings anyway, this just makes it a bit easier and streamlined for consumers to get what they want. I can't remember the last time I saw an ad and said "Wow, that was very well done. I'm definitely going to buy that". Come on, really? A few Dish coworkers and I got to try this out, and it's perfect for those of us who need to constantly catch up on our recordings from the previous days. Now, I can just set it to Auto-hop and my 60 minute shows are done in 40. Well done Dish.

    1. Thanks James. This could mean the end of commercial television. Are you ready to pay more?

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