It gets worse. Because tech markets crave standardization, they tend to create monopolies, which in turn lock consumers into a product or a company. Disgruntled customers find it harder and harder to walk away. Per Davidow:
Lock-in creates dominant players -- witness Google, Facebook, Microsoft. And in this monopoly-driven environment, customers get exploited. Microsoft forces them to upgrade to expensive, overly complex, and bug-ridden software.
Apple controls our virtual landscape, bounded by iTunes to the north, the iPhone to the south, the iPad to the east, and the iPod to the west, giving it increasing power to deprive customers of choice. It exercises that power aggressively. Google appears to have a culture that condones shamelessly violating consumer privacy.
I know this firsthand; I recently decided to try using Bing as my browser home page instead of Google, but quickly abandoned that idea. Why? Because nearly everything else I use every day in my work life -- email, calendar, blogs -- are all Google products. I wasn't willing to switch wholesale, and it was too much hassle to get from Bing to all those services starting with the letter "G".
But mostly, it's a failure of attitude in the minds of Valley CEOs. It's the notion that customers are simply natural resources to be mined and then discarded, an approach that borders on contempt. Davidow writes:
It is hard to believe that Dave Packard or Andy Grove would ever tell a group of entrepreneurs that he did "every horrible thing in the book to just get revenues right away," or brag to trade publications that his company used behavioral psychologists to design "compulsion loops" into products to keep customers engaged. But Mark Pincus, the founder of Internet gaming giant Zynga, has done just that.
Solutions? Davidow has none. As long as the market rewards this kind of behavior, it will continue. But I think companies can learn. We've seen it with Microsoft. Humbled by its continued failures in the mobile arena, it's no longer the haughty our-way-or-the-highway company it used to be back in the late '90s. We've seen it with Facebook, which has gotten backhanded by its customers (and the FTC) on several occasions where it took a few too many liberties with our data. Apple isn't quite the closed-wall company it used to be, though that transition is slow in coming. Google, on the other hand, seems to be getting worse.
As for Zynga, personally I hope it and its CEO go down hard and don't get back up. It's hateful in every way. But I digress.
Overall, I think Davidow nails it. The question now is, what can we as consumers do about it?
What do you think, Cringesters -- is there hope for the Valley yet? Post your thoughts below or ping me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "Occupy Silicon Valley! It's time to take back user rights," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.