4 Internet Startups That Are Plain Evil
These days, the tech industry is all about "disrupting" the old ways of doing things -- which is nothing but a clever way of saying they solve problems that already had solutions, except their solutions don't bother with health benefits or anti-discrimination policies. So far, this ideology has gotten us a wireless juicer, a taxi service that's somehow worse than actual taxis, and a flamethrower from that guy who steals art and makes the smart cars that keep crashing. But if Silicon Valley has proven anything, it's that tech bros never run out of terrible ideas. Just look at these godawful startups ...
Rentberry Turns Renting Apartments Into Vicious Bidding Wars
It's harder to find a more hated demographic than landlords. If they're not squeezing you for every cent, they're claiming that the mold in the kitchen is an aesthetic feature or refusing to repair that eye-level hole in your bathroom wall. And as if they don't already have all the power, now they can even make tenants fight each other like dogs for the privilege of living in their overpriced shitboxes, all thanks to a little app called Rentberry.
You know how renting has become too cheap? Shut our goddamn crazy mouths, you say? Well, Rentberry, the new app from a San Francisco startup, would disagree. Instead of having to list a firm rent cost, Rentberry lets landlords open their properties to bidding. Basically, it's eBay for rentals. Except it's worse, because at least with eBay, you get to own that secondhand baseball card collection you sniped away from baseballfan420.
However, Rentberry's proud guarantee to singlehandedly raise the cost of renting by at least 5 percent isn't where the bad times end.
In order to be able to bid on properties, wannabe renters have to sign away lots of personal information. Merely to create an account, you have to put in photos, credit records, and links to your social media profiles. At least Rentberry doesn't allow landlords to see all of this information immediately, or else some unscrupulous types could use this to discriminate against tenants based on race, sex, creed, or fand- oh no wait, they totally do.
Bodega, Or Cultural Appropriation Walmart
If you live in a major city, then you're familiar with convenience stores -- those friendly joints where you can grab a sandwich, your groceries, and some local gossip, all while supporting an independent business free from the clutches of The Man. (There's also usually an adorable kitty cat wandering around violating half a dozen health codes.) Some places call them mini-marts. Others call them corner stores. In places like New York they're called "bodegas," part of the rich cultural heritage of their predominantly Hispanic owners.
And it's that tradition, multiculturalism, and community spirit the (very non-Hispanic) former Google employees behind Bodega (TM) had in mind when they used the name for their dumbass smart vending machines.
Bodega (TM) was designed to be installed in communal areas like gyms, dorms, and offices, and serve as a place where fleshbots (that's capitalist lingo for "people") could buy goods with ease using wireless payment technology. The cabinet also has an artificial intelligence that can keep track of its own stocks and robocall an engineer to replenish its shelves. This service was, of course, provided at retail price ... with a little extra on top to justify the unnecessary bullshit.
Besides Bodega (TM) insulting us by implying we'd rather get upsold by a glorified vending machine than have to talk to a human convenience clerk, it was also a reminder that nothing is sacred to the efficiency-bots in Silicon Valley. Their ultimate plan wasn't to exist alongside their real-life counterparts, but to replace them, destroying an entire business model in the process. A business model which, need we remind you, is associated with the people of color and immigrants who carved out bodegas as a necessary, joyful part of city life in a country that gets more inhospitable to them with every minute.
In other words, Bodega (TM) is the exact opposite of everything that makes bodegas unique and wonderful. You can't even put a cat in there, you motherfucking colonizer assholes.
Vero's CEO Was Basically The Tech Donald Trump
To say that Vero, the latest social media "Instagram killer" app, had the lifespan of a fruit fly would be an insult to geriatric fruit flies. Given a free release in February of 2018, the app went from being noticed to reaching the top of the App Store to going the way of the venture capitalist dodo in a matter of weeks. It went away so fast that we were almost convinced we'd collectively hallucinated the whole thing. Which would've been better than what really happened, which was that we nearly got taken in by a man whom we should trust less than Donald Fucking Trump.
When Vero came to the public attention, it was the toast of the tech town. Billed as Instagram but slightly better and a lot more secure, people rushed to download it in the hopes it would break them free of the current social media monopoly -- which is like regular Monopoly, but with more selfies and privacy abuses. But users found out that the owner of their new social profile was none other than shady Lebanese billionaire Ayman Hariri.
Hariri, before he attempted to dethrone Zuckerbot 9000, made his fortune managing his family's construction empire in the Middle East. Under his stewardship, the company committed a series of horrible abuses upon its workforce, from refusing to pay them for several months to denying them food, water, and healthcare to forcing them to sleep in an overcrowded labor camp. It got so bad that the government eventually had to step in and provide assistance to the workers, and you know things have gotten bad when the Saudi government feels your human rights violations have crossed a line.
But Hariri's history as someone worthy of a one-way trip to the Hague wasn't the only ethical worry when it came to Vero. Alongside allegations that the platform was developed by a company with ties to Vladimir Putin (this fucking guy), Hariri and another of Vero's founders were responsible for the development of "Epok," a piece of "identity management software" that boasted ties to police and security services. There's also reports tying Hariri to human fucking trafficking, so at least he has one thing not in common with the Donald. Yet.
Stolen Gamified Twitter Abuse
Plenty of people treat social media like it's a game, with every new follower and comment pushing their popularity to a new high score. But you know what isn't all fun and games? The constant harassment perpetrated on these platforms, feeding sociopathic trolls and scaring normal people.
But what if it could be?
Stolen, beside being the premise of a rejected Black Mirror pitch, was a short-lived game app that let people turn your Twitter profile into trading card for others to collect. When someone got their hands on your profile, you'd get a message that you now "belong to" that person, which is then plastered on your home screen. However, the game also allowed users to collect the profiles (and therefore the names and profile pictures) of users who never agreed to sign up for the game. Users who would've probably been creeped out by the fact that, at any moment, an internet bidding war could break out over who got to "own" them.
The other problem with the app (yes, besides getting to catch and own someone else's digital identity like a Pokemon or other, more colonial-era-appropriate comparisons) was that it allowed your new "owner" to use your profile like a virtual toilet wall, where they could write anything they wanted and even give you a nickname. So with very little effort and without your consent, some creep could "buy" you, put their name above your profile as your "owner," and then write a bunch of shit on your wall. The app quickly got shut down, but that a game offering ownership of people, even just their tiny digital footprint, managed to get that far without any red lights once again proves what kind of a sheltered white boy circle-jerk the tech industry truly is.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter about depressing history that you should definitely subscribe to.
Did you realize you can just buy vending machines nowadays?
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For more, check out The 6 Most Downright Evil Things Done By Huge Companies and 16 Diabolical Acts Of Evil By Famous Corporations.
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