writing to you because I noticed that you use DoGood Headquarters‘
advertising service. Please give me a moment to explain to you why
DoGood’s service is ultimately harmful to all of us. This is not a
simple matter to explain but if you could read this letter to the end,
I believe we could agree that everyone will lose by using DoGood’s
service. So, bear with me.
When you first read about DoGood’s
service, you probably thought, “Hey, this is a great idea!” For
philanthropic organizations, it looks almost too good to be true. The
economist Milton Friedman popularized the phrase “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”. It means if someone gets something for free, somebody
else ends up paying for it, and even if it appears to have no cost to
anyone, there is a social cost. As a Green organization, you could
probably relate to this problem of social cost. For instance, many
corporations were allowed to pollute our air at no cost for decades.
Not worrying about the pollution made their manufacturing cost lower,
but we as a society ended up paying for it. This is what is meant by
“Free Lunch”. And, I’ll explain why DoGood is having a Free Lunch at
the expense of many others in the cyberspace.
how DoGood’s business model impacts the Internet, let’s take it to the
extreme, so that the cause and effect become more obvious. Let’s say
that all Americans decided to install their plugin. What would happen?
The advertisers would know that nobody is actually seeing their ads, so
they would not bother advertising on the Web. This means that all
advertising-driven websites will die. Nothing in life is black and
white like this, but this example allows us to see what happens
in-between, that is, all the different shades of gray. Suppose half of
the Americans decided to install their plugin. What would happen then?
The advertisers would then know that only half of their banners are
actually being seen by the visitors (although the record on their ad servers will say the banners were all properly delivered). So, naturally, they will pay for
only half of it, which means the value of impressions for all banners
will be slashed by half. The publishers will lose half of their income.
This is not inconceivable if DoGood’s technology becomes ubiquitous,
but for now the impact is too small to quantify. Part of the reason why the effect is not detectable at the moment is because their technology fools the ad servers into thinking that their ads were properly delivered. But the advertisers will soon realize that their ads are not displaying. Again, just because
the impact is tiny, does not mean that there is no harm. After all, a
hundred years ago, who would have worried about global warming?
organization needs good content on the Web in order to place your ads
to get people’s attention. Killing the content providers is not in your
interest. Nobody will win. Actually, the only company that will benefit
from this is DoGood who will pocket 50% of their profit. Furthermore,
the type of people who would install DoGood’s plugin are
environmentally and socially conscientious. This is a very specific
demographic, and they share similar interests, values, and tastes. The
vast majority of them would probably never visit websites with
right-wing agendas, for instance. This means that these websites would
have nothing to worry about. Their advertising revenues will be
unaffected. Meanwhile those sites that attract these socially
conscientious people will start dying. Wouldn’t this be ironic? By
using DoGood’s service, you would be hurting your own team.
are also moral and ethical issues. DoGood’s position is completely
one-sided. They are so preoccupied with the rights of the website
visitors that they entirely disregard the rights of the publishers,
advertisers, and content creators. Our rights come with
responsibilities. We can’t just claim our rights and disregard the
rights of others. Just as the audience has a right to see, the
publishers and the advertisers have a right to show. Content creators
work hard to produce the contents we all enjoy. The least we can do is
to let them have their ads. Fighting to get everything you can, without consideration for the other, would create a hostile environment
where both sides would have to spend an enormous amount of energy in
fighting each other. If DoGood is allowed to continue, the publishers
will have to arm themselves to fight also. They will be forced to hire
more programmers to counter DoGood’s scheme. It will be a battle
between the programmers to circumvent one another. This is very much
like how our county wastes billions of dollars of our tax money buying
weapons. Peace, obviously, is the cheapest solution. The more hostile
we make our cyberspace, the more expensive everything will be. And, the
small websites who cannot afford to hire programmers to protect
themselves will die first.
Disruptive technologies can be
good sometimes. For instance, Craig’s List killed the lucrative
classified business for publishers, but this is ultimately good because
online listing is far more efficient and therefore cheaper. So,
overall, it’s a plus for the whole society. On the other hand, DoGood’s
net effect on our society will be negative. You might disagree because
DoGood is donating 50% of their profit to philanthropic causes. Surely,
those causes will benefit, you might argue. But let’s think about this
too for a moment. Suppose I steal music by ripping CDs, making MP3s,
and selling them on the street. I then take 50% of the profit and
donate it to your organization. From your perspective, this is great.
You will get a steady stream of donations from me. You will see me as a
generous donor, and I’ll get showered with your respect. A win-win
situation, it seems, doesn’t it? Again, this is what is meant by “Free
Lunch”. The money you are receiving from me is actually not coming from
me. It actually belongs to the musicians and their labels. It is
actually stolen money. Suppose the musicians and the labels lost a
total of $10,000 in sale because of what I did. If they had to lose
that money anyway, wouldn’t it be more efficient if they donated that
money directly to you? Instead, what happened is that I pocketed $5,000
and you got $5,000, and in the process, a lot of resources were wasted
in production, wrapping, transportation, etc. (more “footprint”). But,
in reality, it is unlikely that the musicians and the labels would have
given you this money in the first place. However, does this give you
the right to take it against their will?
This is what is
happening when you receive donations from DoGood. DoGood does not
produce any content. There are no writers, photographers, or artists
working hard to produce contents that can be supported by ads. Yet they
are selling ads. They are getting contents for free, just like I’m
getting music for free in my example above. The money that you are
receiving as a donation is actually coming from the advertisers who
paid for their banners. If these advertisers had to lose this money, it
would be far more efficient to give you the money directly. Again, you
will get 100% of it because DoGood would not get their cut. But, again,
in reality this would not happen, the advertisers are not likely to
give you this money. Then again, does this give you the right to take
it against their will?
Furthermore, please keep in mind that
DoGood does not discriminate which ads they are replacing with their
ads, which means even if the publishers are serving philanthropic
banners, DoGood will replace them with your banners. Granted, the
majority of banner ads are boring, annoying, and socially irrelevant.
But there are some businesses that do great things. And, occasionally,
there are banners paid for by non-profit organizations. If their
banners are replaced by your banner, you are actually stealing their
money, because they paid for that. You might even be stealing from the
businesses that are already donating money to you. You might say those
are a minority, but let’s think about this carefully. DoGood is making
a sweeping generalization about the ads that the publishers are serving
by calling them “generic”, and using it as an excuse to swap them with
their “good” ads. This is nothing short of prejudice. It’s like saying
let’s just assume that all Muslims are terrorists, and treat them
accordingly. Besides, why should DoGood be in a position to decide
what’s “generic” and what’s “good”? Do we all agree about what’s “good”?
of whose banner you are replacing, the fact that their banners are
“generic” does not give you any right to take their money against their
will. Everyone has his or her own right to do “good” or not do “good”.
We all have different ways that we contribute to our society. You may
not agree with how I do “good” things, or you may not support the
organizations that I would support. You may even object to some of
them. We all have our differences, but we try to respect one another
and our differences.
I hope that I’ve explained this well
enough for you to agree that DoGood is not what it appears to be. I had
a long passionate debate with the founder of DoGood, Faisal Sethi.
Many critical questions that I asked him, he could not answer. I asked
him how he determined “generic” and “good” when they accept requests
from websites to be exempted from their banner swapping. I asked why he
should be in a position to make such a judgment. No answer. DoGood
claims that their system would not affect the payment the websites
receive from click-thru’s (which is the biggest source of their
income). I asked him to provide proof to back up that claim, but he
could not. And so on...
I’m quite sure that Faisal means well. I
believe the problem is that he cannot see the ultimate consequences of
his own idea. But I still have hope that he will do the right thing in
the end. Unfortunately, I believe his idea has opened the door to
others who are not as conscientious as he is to use the same scheme to
profit. We already spend so much time, money and effort in fighting
schemes like Spams and viruses. We don’t need yet another. So, I hope
we can stop it before it gets out of control.
Thank you for reading this.
©2010 Dyske Suematsu, All Rights Reserved.