HelpHive Controversy: One Pissed Plumber

Seattle plumber Evan Conklin is very angry at HelpHive. He made his feelings plain in a comment on one of my posts about the company. Now the Seattle blog TechFlash posts that part of Conklin’s anger is about call tracking:

That was until last Friday when Conklin stumbled upon HelpHive, a Seattle online directory of local service providers. Conklin couldn’t believe what he saw. His business listing on HelpHive included a phone number, but it wasn’t the one he’d used for the past 30 years. It was a new number generated and controlled by HelpHive, a proxy number of sorts that the Internet upstart had set up to track calls it was passing on to the plumber.

Conklin was appalled with the idea that a third-party Web site could create a new phone number for his business, thinking that it was simply a way to get between him and his customer and to eventually start charging him for leads. “They have no right to do that,” said Conklin.”These guys are like vampires, sitting behind laptops siphoning off business.” 

The questions this dispute raises (again) are:

  • Who owns SMB data? (facts are public in the US and cannot be copyrighted)
  • Can companies swap in things like call tracking numbers (very widespread) or other similar lead capture devices without the consent of the business itself? 

We’ll see if Conklin goes so far as to file a suit against HelpHive. If he were to, does anyone know of cases in this area that may have resolved the question of whether call-tracking or similar devices can be used without an SMB’s prior consent?

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36 Responses to “HelpHive Controversy: One Pissed Plumber”

  1. Neil Street Says:

    I can see why Conklin is mad. But to play devil’s advocate for a moment:

    if I am understanding the whole set up by HelpHive correctly, Conklin did not pay them to put his information up on their site. So in fact, HelpHive is creating a new channel of advertising for Conklin (albeit without his fore-knowledge) and presumably passing leads on to him (for a fee, I’m sure) that he would not otherwise have received.

    Isn’t Conklin getting free advertising here? And only asked to pay if he wants to receive the lead?

    Maybe I’m confused about how it works.

    Anyway, I can see elements of this headed to court — does Helphive have the right to profit from Conklin’s information in this way? Do they have the right to manipulate the information with a different phone #?

    Interesting case.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Certainly is. Thanks for your thoughts Neil.

  3. Jamie Says:

    Well, I understand his outrage, but I can’t empathize with it. Small businesses (and people in general) need to realize that the content published on guides and directories is inherently content that is owned by the publisher – certainly if the information displayed is public information. While defamation and libel issues could come into play if something untrue was being said, the interception of a lead I generate as a publisher is entirely my prerogative.

    If I’m helping you, and I want you to pay me for that help, well, just ask me to stop helping you and you won’t have to pay me.

  4. David Mihm Says:

    Greg, I assume you have seen a similar scenario happening at Merchant Circle as publicized by Mike? Darren W has tried to use the same argument that Jamie and Neil have put forth.

    I would just say that it’s not a good strategy in the long run if sites ever expect to monetize from business owners themselves.

  5. Evan Conklin Says:

    Consider this:
    I contacted over 50 businesses listed on Helphive.com “directory” and asked them to take a look at their listing there that included a proxy phone number attached to their “free ad”. Every one of these business owners reacted as I did and stated that they would immediately take action to get removed from the helphive.com site. I have no doubt that this is a rapidly growing into a major class action lawsuit with thousands of potential claimants as long as helphive has it’s head in the sand.
    If this so-called service is so potentially beneficial to us as service providers why are we so pissed off?
    Signed – Just another dumb plumber that doesn’t know a good thing when he sees one (apparently).

  6. Reid Wakefield Says:

    I think part of the frustration that Evan feels (and obviously he’s not the only one) relates to the lack of control over the number. I certainly don’t mean to accuse HelpHive.com of any nefarious intentions, but Evan has no way of knowing for sure that all of “his” calls are in fact coming to him. We’re a wholesale provider of call measurement numbers, and we’ve seen publishers redirect lines to different advertisers when someone falls out of favor. Again, I don’t want to imply that HelpHive.com would ever do this (it’s against their own best interests), but here’s an example we’ve seen: two plumbers place an ad in a phone book. Plumber #1 doesn’t pay his bill, but the book has already hit the streets. The publisher simply redirects his calls to Plumber #2, and Plumber #1 has no way of knowing who / how many callers tried to reach him.

    HelpHive.com is getting beaten up for a seemingly good deed, but it’s important to consider the point that David made above. Fair or unfair, businesses will not respond well when they feel powerless about controlling leads.

  7. Just my 2 cents Says:

    Evan,
    If I were you I would focus on this one question, is this site a good way for me to generate new business with a positive ROI? If not, just don’t pay them and they will probably remove your listing or prioritize your competition who is willing to pay to get exposed to Helphive’s traffic. Simple as that.

    Personally I would never ask to be removed from a directory, that is just foolish because you a removing yourself from being infront of potential customers. It doesn’t mean you have to pay them, just don’t ask to be removed, that’s like shooting yourself in the foot. You want to be on every directory on the internet that you can for free. If they haven’t charged you yet milk it for as long as you can. But never ever ever ask to be removed from a directory.

  8. Just my 2 cents Says:

    Reid,
    That’s a great point and in the case of redirecting to a different business, well that’s just wrong. HelpHive could get into serious trouble if they did that. As long as they avoid doing fraudulent redirects I doubt they would loose a lawsuit for placing call tracking software on their own website, the businesses will loose this one and it’s frankly a waste of time. What do they have fear if the calls come to them and they aren’t being forced to pay for it, just seems like fear of the unknown.

  9. Evan Conklin Says:

    Sorry boys but you really don’t get it.
    Go to the site and see for yourself. Helphive charges money for lead referrals generated by your own company name. They want an annual subscription fee plus 5% of the value of any job that comes of the lead. They do NOT connect the customer unless you pay other than a 3 referral teaser so they can attempt to sign you up. If the calls went through like you assume there would be no point helphive having a proxy tel for the listing.
    Here is their own quote:
    QUOTE
    All businesses on the site, unclaimed, newly added or claimed get a FREE trial of the Referral Pro Plan, which includes 3 qualified referrals and subsequently jobs that result from those referrals.  To continue receiving referrals, businesses should signup for one of the Referral Pro Plan tiers.
    Billing
    • Annual Fee: Your credit card will be charged the annual fee associated with the level of Referral Pro Plan you sign up for at the time you sign up.
    • Qualified Referral Fees: Your credit card will be charged on or after the first day of each month for all Qualified Referral Fees that were billed and settled in the preceding month (e.g. if you had 2 Qualified Referrals that did not result in Jobs in the month of October, you would be charged a total of $10 on or after November 1st.)
    • Job Commission Fees: Your credit card will be charged on or after the first day of each month for all Job Commission Fees that were billed and settled in the preceding month. (e.g. if you had 2 Jobs resulting from Qualified Referrals in the month of October, you would be charged 5% of each job’s revenue on or after November 1st.)
    • Referral Pro Plan
    • The Referral Pro Plan is our basic plan, and provides your business with the confidence that HelpHive is working to get you referrals 24/7.  The benefits of this plan are outlined in the Referral Pro Plans Overview (click for details)
    Pricing
    • Annual Fee: $99
    • Job Commission Fee: 5% of job revenue for jobs booked as a result of HelpHive qualified referrals
    • Qualifed Referral Fee: $5 for qualified referrals that don’t result in a job

  10. Karim Meghji Says:

    There is NO redirection of leads or referrals to other businesses as some would like you to believe on HelpHive.com. There is NO data collection and selling of that data as some would like you to believe on HelpHive.com.

    HelpHive referrals result from various activities. One is obviously search both on and off of HelpHive.com. Which plumber “owns” the customer or words “fix toilet seattle” or “clear drain bellevue”? Another is referrals that occur as a result of homeowners posting and sharing reviews with friends and neighbors – what we call a homeowner’s referral network. Our site promotes, encourages and ultimately enables the capturing of referrals that might not otherwise be captured – generating additional leads and referrals for businesses.

    And, yes, we do believe if we bring a business a real referral or a referral that results in a job, then it’s fair to get compensated.

    To re-iterate, businesses who signup for a Referral Pro Plan pay when HelpHive.com performs for them (unlike many other advertising options for local businesses). To re-iterate:

    – a 5% commission of job revenue for booked jobs that RESULTED from HelpHive
    – a $5 fee for a real potential customer that RESULTED from HelpHive but didn’t turn into a job
    – ZERO $ for referrals that are not qualified (e.g. sales calls, competitors calls, wrong numbers, out of area calls, calls for services a business doesn’t perform etc.)

    A business that trials the 3 FREE referrals and chooses not to continue can easily turn off contact information…and still gain the benefit of good reviews and the referral network concept on HelpHive.com at no cost.

    • Al Macintyre Says:

      For the end customer, of the directory listing, they really have no way of knowing what the directory is doing with leads not paid for.

      The business world abounds with stories of fraudulent activity by new business models, not neccessarily intentional, such as the handling of data breaches.

      What is needed, among other things, is a standard of notification, and auditing.

      If business-A has data on business-B or person-B then business-B or person-B ought to have a right to know what business-A is doing with it, then have the right to opt-out of that, or make sure that the data is correct.

      When business-A claims they are taking action of some kind on behalf of their data on other people, those other people ought to have access to auditing to ensure that the claimed action agrees with the actual action.

      Example … a publisher claims some sales figures leading to royalties paid to original authors, musicians, programmers, etc. who ought to have access to an independent audit to verify publisher being truthful.

  11. Just my 2 cents Says:

    So Evan, do they just remove you after you receive your 3 free leads if you don’t advertise. That doesn’t sound so bad to me. It would be bad if they used your name to get calls to other advertisers but I don’t think they are doing that. The consumer came to helphive, so they can refer them to whomever they like. Directories are not charities and they often prioritize or sometimes only list sponsors.

    • Evan Conklin Says:

      They drop the caller into a voice mail with a message that we are not available or whatever they wish. If they would simply have removed my listing when I asked them to we wouldn’t be having this conversation and they wouldn’t be scrambling damage control now. They still have not removed my company listing but it is probably too late, as every small business group, contractor group, lobbyist, tech blog I can find has been asked to peruse the site and voice an opinion. I personally contacted 50 or so of the listed service providers and not one of them failed to respond to the sense of being scammed with real monetary damage fears. We never hired these guys. What? You don’t want a FREE ENEMA???? That seems to be the helphive position.

  12. Dumbo Says:

    Dumbo the Plumber,

    There is no lawsuit here. Any lawyer worth his salt would not take this case because there is no way to ‘win’.

    In order to ‘win’ you need to demonstrate damages, and the damages need to have a dollar value, and the damage dollar value need to be high enough (north of $50k) in order for a judge to conclude they are frivolous.

    You actually have it backwards, Mr. Dumbo, you are the one who should worry about getting sued. You’ve stated opinion as fact, which is defamatory.

    You should RUN not WALK to a lawyer because you don’t know what you are talking about.

    Just another Dumb Lawyer

  13. Dave Says:

    New customer calls Plumber on phone number unknown and unauthorized by Plumber. Perhaps he knows Plumber or has used them in the past. Customer assumes it is Plumber’s phone number and does business with them. Plumber decides to not participate in HelpHive at a later date. Customer needs additional work and calls number he had saved for new job or warranty issue. Line disconnected. Customer assumes Plumber out of business and will not call them again.
    This is not the same as a tracking number in paid ad as the Plumber never authorized use of the number in the first place. He has no choice in how he communicates with his customers. If he uses tracking numbers elsewhere he is aware of potential problems ahead (hopefully) and can make a decision. This has a bad smell to it! Why is the customer relationship never factored into a “lead” in so many of these discussions. Fight on Evan!

  14. MissPiggi Says:

    interesting!!

  15. Rich Rosen Says:

    This is a great discussion. I agree with Reid: If Merchant #1 falls out of favor or worse, doesn’t pay their bills; the publisher should redirect their calls. However, this would almost definitely be covered in the publisher’s terms of service and advertisers would have agreed to such when they signed the insertion order.

    I also agree w/ Jamie: my opinion is that the listing is public domain. Of course, the merchant should easily be able to opt-out.

    Mobile local search has many challenges, and for better or worse, call tracking offers many solutions. In June I wrote in response to Greg’s post on pay-per-call: “Will Local Market Ultimately Reject PFP/PPC”

    http://blog.fastcall411.com/2009/06/improved-customer-service-will-drive.html

    I argued then that customer service is a key to success in mobile local search. Consumers expect immediate availability when hiring a local merchant. Problem is merchants don’t always answer their phones or are otherwise not available: i.e. the plumber is under the sink and not available when the consumer needs them.

    From the publisher’s POV is it a better consumer experience to connect the calling consumer to the merchant’s voicemail, or is it a better consumer experience to offer to connect the consumer to other available merchants and redirect the call?

    Yes, in this scenario some merchants will lose leads, but others will win. And the consumer is served – I argue that is the most important priority.

    By tracking calls, we are able to identify merchants who are more likely to be available and responsive. This rewards merchants who deliver better customer service. So while merchants should be hyper diligent about who is controlling their identity and reputation, they can find solace in the potential to be rewarded for their good service.

    disclosure: I am a vendor of call tracking and call routing applications – including TryAnother – a call redirection application.

  16. coldbrew Says:

    There is an obvious divide among the participants in this discussion (here, Techflash, etc.). It is a huge divide. As someone that is both tech-savvy and one that has many friends that provide contracting services, I will try to explain what I see in general, as it relates to this situation to which I’m a complete outsider:

    I have ~20 friends that are small business owners, and for most of them, the web is magical, intimidating, and confusing. They mostly use business emails from hotmail or yahoo, but their business’ usage of the internet ends there.

    They have been paying and continue (for the most part) to pay the Yellow Pages thousands of $s for years; they resent it, but understand it and are comfortable with it.

    These newer services like merchantcircle, HH, and many others are providing new ways to yield the same results as the Yellow Pages, though they are often utilizing new methods (more accountable, imo). These new methods are confusing to non-tech people and make these people feel like they’re losing control of their businesses. It is a gut reaction to change that is misunderstood. This will change over time, but not overnight.

    I mean no disrespect when I say that these small business owners are just not sophisticated (explaining ROI will cause their eyes to glaze over), and I would implore startups targeting this group of businesses to exercise a bit more compassion and a willingness to sit down and explain things clearly (yes, scalability issues abound).

  17. Evan Conklin Says:

    There is a divide alright but it is not caused by a lack of sophistication. I am quite familiar with the technology we are using – I built my first computer in 1979, an old Heathkit H8 and wired it into an electric Olympia typewriter to process our invoices and automate our plumbing correspondence. I was computing before there was a Microsoft or such a thing as graphics or the internet. I had my first website in 1992 distributing technical literature to products I developed , marketed and supported technically worldwide. I am internet savvy and maintain my company website, built databases and work as a paid consultant in more than one industry. There is no confusion on my end nor with any of the people I have spoken to that took a look at that so-called directory called Helphive.
    I mean no disrespect to you but the issue here is one of ethics – not the details of ROI.
    We, as service providers, do not resent paying for services. We understand paying our way very well. We exchange our labor – manual labor – in exchange for something of value. We can not pretend or fake the services we provide. If you call us to fix your plumbing, we only get paid when we are done and you are happy with the work we have provided.
    In this case nothing was provided to us that wasn’t taken from us by force without our permission. When we protest, we are described as unsophisticated and confused among yourselves. You guys are victims of your own mind control techniques apparently. It doesn’t work on everybody you know.

    Read the rhetoric from Helphive on this blog .- sales and marketing; half-truth, smooze and muddy water – slick as snot. Listen to the simplicity of my complaint and compare it to the foggy sweetness of a company with something to hide. Say what you like about my non-understanding, I know when I’m being had (and so do the other service providers for the most part).

    I didn’t expect that I would have to explain to anybody why intentionally causing dysfunction with another’s company identity on the web is wrong. The sole purpose of that very intentional act on their part was to forcefully insert itself between an existing neighborhood service and the customer for profit.

    Something is seriously lacking in this tech industry. It is called ethics.

    Consideration of the effects on others, the desire to improve the quality and sense of participation in the community we work and live in should be a primary goal in designing the business plan for any new venture in our culture.
    If you are connected in any real way (we ain’t talking virtual here). I am capable of working in many different fields, but I do plumbing. I do it for a reason. It is a tactile not virtual daily experience. Helphive apparently thinks it can take what they want and justify it with the slickness of a used car salesman and expects me to buy it. Some of you apparently do. I just hope that those in my camp have got you others outnumbered.
    You are right – there are two camps. There is the camp of the guys that want to do it to ‘em and there is the camp they want to do it to. All I can say is that it is going to be a battle with real – not virtual- casualties. The saber rattling is getting noisier every day, just wait and see how big these ranks are in this camp.
    I do not know if I will succeed in conveying the danger I perceive to all of us if this kind of business behavior – accelerated by technology – is allowed to become accepted as ethically neutral, by us as individuals. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

    In my camp, we do not break other peoples property and then, out of our deepest altruistic empathy offer to fix it (for an annual fee and 5%).

    Why would any reasonable thinking person on this planet be surprised when I decline to accept the offer of a free enema?

  18. Stever Says:

    There is no doubt that the information being used in directories is public info. Business name, address and phone numbers. But this info is also a representation of a business and its brand. Directories then do have some responsibilities in how they use that information.

    Changing a phone number, without prior consent of the business, could constitute a misrepresentation of the business and potentially harming its brand. Businesses in a directory such as HH should be able to opt out.

    Businesses that opt out, or not even knowing they are in there and have somehow missed the “first 3 free ones”, letting the option lapse, should be removed from the system. Leads that may have gone to them, but are not because they are not paying, SHOULD NOT be given to the other paying members, direct competitors. That would constitute using their brand to redirect customers to a competitor.

    Nobody owns keywords in the sense of what series of words a person may type into a search engine. Google even permits bidding on trademarked terms in paid search. That part of branded keyword usage is intangible and not outwardly visible. Keywords stuffed into meta tags may also fall into that category. But when the brand name is publicly displayed on the profile page for that business, and that page then attracts some search traffic by people seeking that brand, as the HH site certainly does (when I search in Google for some of the plumbing companies listed in Seattle some HH pages are ranking in top 5), redirecting potential customers to competitors, who were seeking the brand they though they might be calling, may very well be illegal. Certainly highly unethical.

    There are other lead gen services that will pass leads on to competitors if one member does not take them or pay for them, but what matters here is the means by which those leads are being generated in the first place. HH is a local SEO play. It’s not just generating traffic from people who first find it using a search like “seattle drain fix”. It is generating traffic from those branded search terms too, so passing leads off to competitors gets sticky.

    Karim just stated they don’t redirect leads to competitors. Good.

    Many businesses use tracking numbers so they can see how certain advertising campaigns are performing. But these businesses are getting into it on their own and make the decision to use a tracking number and decide where to use it. As the tracking number industry has grown the issue of number portability has popped up and now many call tracking platforms let that business keep the number if they later choose to terminate the tracking service. This is important due to the concerns over customers who may have recorded that number and may latter call it again. If HH is using its own tracking numbers then the problem of number portability arises.

    And not to mention the problems this will cause with Google Maps, more duplication as David Mihm highlighted in a previous post here and elsewhere.

    HH certainly has the right to charge fee’s for generating real, and quality, business leads, but Conklin also has some legitimate concerns about how this system is structured and the changing of phone numbers.

  19. Scott Says:

    Wonder if any of this was done for PR purposes. Seems like a great amount of press for HelpHive and feels like a bit of an odd response from a plumber who seems very well connected too :)

  20. Greg Sterling Says:

    Scott: Nope, it’s a genuine controversy.

  21. Rich Rosen Says:

    A genuine controversy it is: Is call tracking slick as snot, or just good service?.

    At the essence I see a fundamental challenge within mobile local search: data quality.

    A quick search for plumbers on HelpHive returns 687 results (Los Angeles also returns 687 results so this is perhaps programmed by HelpHive). Search for Seattle Plumber with Google Maps and there are 2,368 results. Directories such as HelpHive aim to help consumers sort through these very unmanageable lists.

    In my recent article on iMediaCONNECTION: “Left in the dark: How search fails at mobile local”, I provide examples of base mobile local search data that is out-of-date, unverified by the business owner, inaccurate, poorly categorized, etc.

    Our testing at FastCall411 has revealed that if /when the consumer calls the 2,368 results on Google, they will – on average – receive a disconnected number, busy signal or no answer about 700 times. About 700 times they will be connected to an answering machine or IVR (which may in turn connect to a live person or voice mail). The remaining consumers would be lucky to find a plumber who answers their phone. Of these, we can assume some will be available to serve the consumer’s need and some will not.

    Call tracking enables publishers to apply a level of analysis to a mostly unfiltered database of local merchants well beyond spidering the web. The call disposition (disconnect, busy, etc) provides insight into the status of the merchant that we could never uncover from a base listing or meta data alone. Further, examining average call length reveals even more about the interaction between the caller and merchant. While there are exceptions, I believe average call length – taken over a series of calls – is a great proxy for customer service. Unlike consumer reviews, the call detail records present empirical data.

    The net result: plumbers who better serve their clients can be rewarded by tracking calls.

  22. Evan Conklin Says:

    THanks for that information. I will indead track my calls when I deem it necessary. The question is should I be tracking your calls?

  23. coldbrew Says:

    Let me be clear in stating that I live far away from WA and I’m not involved in any business related to HH’s. Nor do I know any of you people or any of the people specifically involved.

    Conklin: You rank #1 for “plumbing seattle” on Google organic SERPs and have laid out your tech cred quite well. Congratulations. Do you think you are typical? You are acting as though you are the rule rather than the exception.

    From what I’ve seen on HH, the phone numbers they use have the form (XXX)XXX-XXX ext XXXX. Perhaps HH should make it more clear that it is a “HH-connect #” or somehow labeled? Or even a click-to-call button where the user doesn’t see a number, but just enters their own number and the back-end bridges the call.

    Regardless, HH seems to have removed any number related to Conklin’s plumbing business which, as I understand it, was the original issue. The number is gone, there is only a name of a plumbing business now.

    From an outsiders’ perspective, it seems Conklin was simply enjoying the Google page rank, and when a service popped up to help other local plumbers that are far less competent in competing on SERPs, it skewed the traffic to seattleplumber.com (hard to believe for me, but).

  24. coldbrew Says:

    This whole situation makes a whole lot more sense now. The plumbers, carpenters, realtors, electricians, architects, inspectors, floor guys, concrete guys, etc. that I know would all like to get additional business right now. They are lost on how to generate that business. Merchantcircle is a very large business for a reason.

    Of course, if I were involved with one of these businesses directly, I would resent HH too because I know exactly how to generate these leads on my own too and I would prefer to compete with those who do not.

    I would encourage HH to make it easier to remove these proxy phone numbers, and possibly the businesses’ pages themselves. Conklin is atypical, and does not represent the norm. It just doesn’t seem worth it.

    SEO has nothing to do with plumbing and I doubt the best plumbers know anything about it (my buddy doesn’t for sure).

  25. JR Says:

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  26. Evan Conklin Says:

    No, I’m probably not typical as far as internet or web marketing experience compared to most plumbing companies. And yes, I do enjoy a good web position due to the years of efforts and tens of thousands of dollars spent developing and maintaining that position.
    The issue is the substitution of the proxy telephone number as a substitute for the company phone without considering the probable actual damages to the listed business. It is intentionally disruptive to established businesses. I am one of them. It would be different if we had contracted for the service. I willingly paid Google for years until I could build the organic side of my listings.
    If I contract Helphive to send me leads I don’t have a problem with diverting my calls as they are working for me under contractual agreements. However I have no business relationship with them hence their intentional disruption of incoming calls is very aggressively unethically invasive.
    I understand the need and usefulness of right now ad generation for those of us that need it but not by disruption of every business listed in the faux directory. (It is not a legitimate directory if the business name and real contact information is compromised). It looks like theft, smells like fraud and has a bait and switch element to it.

    • Al Macintyre Says:

      In the absence of a business relationship with a contract that spells out rights and obligations of both parties, any directory service, that takes actions that can sabotage the business of the listed business, unless the listed business pays some fees, that’s racketeering.

      For those e-business promoters who do not understand this, the brick & mortar equivalent is your friendly neighborhood mafia who want some protection money, so your business, your auto, your home, your family, will not be harrassed by unknown assailants. But this is not insurance that pays you off when that happens, it is assurance that it will happen if you do not pay your friendly mafia representative whatever they ask for each time they come around.

      It does not matter that this directory service claims to have a new business model that the brick & mortar business does not understand, they are just another form of the mafia in the eyes of businesses that are accustomed to clarity of explanations, ability to opt out of services they don’t want, because of a lack of FAQ to reassure them about possible downsides in the eyes of people nervous about some implications.

      • Al Macintyre Says:

        An example of this new business model is found in Eastern Europe with reverse mortgages.

        Seniors are offered income for life, where when they die, their paid for home will be inherited by the reverse mortgage service.

        Sounds good, until the seniors befall lots of deadly accidents that seem to be intentional.

        The reality is that we are expected to trust business models to be run by ethical persons, where cost competition invites unethical participants with end customers unable to distinquish crooks from the trustworthy.

        In the Internet world, the lines are extremely blurred between legitimate business models, and activities bordering on extreme criminality. Note for example the notion that anonymity can serve e-mafia and the KNUJON report on how the criminal underworld seeks to dominate what used to be legitimate e-business.

        http://www.knujon.com/registrars/

  27. Plumber vs. HelpHive Debate Continues « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] debate about small business, online marketing, who owns the data and call tracking, check out the 27 comments to this post, HelpHive Controversy: One [...]

  28. Mike Says:

    Whether it is a legal issue (‘phone’ is equivalent to address, and changing it to insert yourself is willful deception), or an ethical issue because the contact methodology isn’t clearly labeled (to 99% of consumers, ‘phone’ represents the ‘business’s phone number’, not a ‘contact number that will try to connect you to the business’), its probably a case where a ‘standard industry (best?) practice’ that was hidden and unknown to most consumers, will not be hidden for long. HelpHive and others will need to decide if they get sustained business from the ‘deception’. Or if its just a matter of time before there is a general backlash against the practice that results in legislation around making its use explicitly transparent, or even forbidden.

    HelpHive need to get service providers and consumers to feel confident about their business ethics since they are trying to be the trusted intermediary for reputation and referrals. With small fixes, re-labeling ‘phone’ something like ‘sure-connect’, so that people know there is an assured connection mechanism which they talk about, but also so that search engines know not to index it — it isn’t the phone number, (as well as properly labeling/linking source of scraped image/text content to owners’ websites), it could be pretty cool for homeowners.

  29. coldbrew Says:

    Incidentally, from that same 37s blog post, the comments section is riddled with suggestions for improving the copy when referring to companies that have chosen to handle their own customer service rather than use GS.

    Meghji: It might do you well to read that 37s post and the 272 comments. I think you might come to find there are some issues with your current methods that many other folks find objectionable. Better to address these now while still an early startup focused on one locale.

  30. coldbrew Says:

    I made a previous comment before the “3:09″ time-stamped one..

    Sterling: Please help. Thanks.

  31. xavierv Says:

    I think it’s already a common practice in the tourism industry. They are doing the same thing google is doing: giving you visibility, and charging you for it. merchantcircle is planning to do the same (or is already doing it).

  32. Chicago Emergency Plumber Says:

    Thanks for sharing this! Great coverage

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