Automating Ourselves Out of Existence

Time has grown more scarce after having a child, so I rarely blog anymore. Though I thought it probably made sense to make at least a quarterly(ish) post so people know I still exist.

One of the big things I have been noticing over the past year or so is an increasing level of automation in ways that are not particularly brilliant. :D

Just from this past week I've had 3 treat encounters on this front.

One marketplace closed my account after I made a bunch of big purchases, likely presuming the purchases were fraudulent based on the volume, new account & an IP address in an emerging market economy. I never asked for a refund or anything like that, but when I believe in something I usually push pretty hard, so I bought a lot. What was dumb about that is they took a person who would have been a whale client & a person they were repeatedly targeting with ads & turned them into a person who would not recommend them ... after being a paying client who spent a lot and had zero specific customer interactions or requests ... an all profit margin client who spent big and then they discarded. Dumb.

Similarly one ad network had my account automatically closed after I had not used it for a while. When I went to reactivate it the person in customer support told me it would be easier to just create a new account as reactivating it would take a half week or more. I said ok, went to set up a new account, and it was auto-banned and they did not disclose why. I asked feedback as to why and they said that they could not offer any but it was permanent and lifetime.

A few months go by and I wondered what was up with that and I logged into my inactive account & set up a subaccount and it worked right away. Weird. But then even there they offer automated suggestions and feedback on improving your account performance and some of them were just not rooted in fact. Worse yet, if they set the default targeting options to overly broad it can cause account issues in a country like Vietnam to where if you click to approve (or even auto approve!) their automated suggestions you then get notifications about how you are violating some sort of ToS or guidelines ... if they can run that logic *after* you activate *their* suggestions, why wouldn't they instead run that logic earlier? How well do they think you will trust & believe in their automated optimization tips if after you follow them you get warning pop overs?

Another big bonus recently was a client was mentioned in a stray spam email. The email wasn't from the client or me, but the fact that a random page on their site was mentioned in a stray spoofed email that got flagged as spam meant that when the ticket notification from the host sent wounded up in spam they never saw it and then the host simply took their site offline. Based on a single email sent from some other server.

Upon calling the host with a friendly WTF they explained to the customer that they had so many customers they have to automate everything. At the same time when it came time to restoring hosting that the client was paying for they suggested the client boot in secure mode, run Apache commands x and y, etc. ... even though they knew the problem was not with the server, but an overmalicious automated response to a stray mention in a singular spam email sent by some third party.

When the host tried to explain that they "have to" automate everything because they have so many customers the customer quickly cut them off with "No, that is a business choice. You could charge different prices or choose to reach out to people who have spent tens of thousands on hosting and have not had any issues in years." He also mentioned how emails can be sent to spam, or be sent to an inbox on the very web host that went offline & was then inaccessible. Then the lovely customer support person stated "I have heard that complaint before" meaning they are aware of the issue, but do not see it as an issue for them. When the customer said they should follow up any emails with an SMS for servers going offline the person said you could do it on your end & then later sent them a 14-page guide for how to integrate the Twillio API.

Nothing in the world is fair. Nothing in the world is equal. But there are smart ways to run a business & dumb ways to run a business.

If you have enough time to write a 14-page integration guide it probably makes sense to just incorporate the feature into the service so the guide is unneeded!

Businesses should treat their heavy spenders or customers with a long history of a clean account with more care than a newly opened account. I had a big hedge fund as a client who would sometimes want rush work done & would do stuff like "hey good job there, throw in an extra $10,000 for yourself as a bonus" on the calls. Whenever they called or emailed they got a quick response. :D

I sort of get that one small marketplace presuming my purchases might have been a scam based on how many I did, how new my account was, and how small they were, but the hosting companies & ad networks that are worth 9 to 12 figures should generally do a bit better. Though in many ways the market cap is a sign the entity is insulated from market pressures & can automate away customer service hoping that their existing base is big enough to offset the customer support horror stories that undermine their brand.

It works.

At least for a while.

A parallel to the above is my Facebook ad account, which was closed about a half decade or so ago due to geographic mismatch. That got removed, but then sort of only half way. If I go to run ads it says that I can't, but then if I go to request an account review to once again explain the geographic difference I can't even get the form to submit unless I edit the HTML of the page on the fly to seed the correct data into the form field as by default it says I can not request a review since I have no ad account.

The flip side of the above is if that level of automation can torch existing paid accounts you have to expect the big data search & social companies are taking a rather skeptical view of new sites or players wanting to rank freely in their organic search results or social feeds. With that being the case, it helps to seed what you can to provide many signals that may remove some of the risks of getting set in the bad pile.

I have seen loads of people have their YouTube or Facebook or whatever such account get torched & only override the automated technocratic persona non grata policies by having followers in another channel who shared their dire situation so it could get flagged for human review and restoration. If that happens to established & widely followed players who have spent years investing into a platform the odds of it happening to most newer sites & players is quite high.

You can play it safe and never say anything interesting, ensuring you are well within the Overtone Window in all aspects of life. That though also almost certainly guarantees failure as it is hard to catch up or build momentum if your defining attribute is being a conformist.