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  • Freeloading?

    September 12th, 2022
    ads, freeloading
    Selections from the category of "provider expects people in general will make it worth their while, and you're behaving in a way where you won't", roughly ordered from my impression of least to most acceptable:

    • Taking free newspapers from a distribution box to use in craft projects or for heating your house.

    • Accepting a swag t-shirt to get cotton to use for papermaking.

    • Going to a store without any intention of buying something, just to eat the free samples.

    • Bringing outside food into a movie theater or amusement park.

    • Interviewing somewhere you would definitely not want to work, just for the practice.

    • Using paywall circumvention software.

    • Independently decrypting cable or satellite TV.

    • Using GNU Parallel without citing it.

    • Running an ad blocker on your computer.

    • Fast-forwarding through sponsored sections on YouTube or a podcast.

    • Stopping to watch a street performer or listen to busker without paying.

    • Listening to NPR without contributing, when you could afford to.

    • Accompanying friends to a restaurant and only ordering water.

    • Buying PS3 consoles and building a supercomputer.

    • Buying a cheap printer and using third-party ink.

    • Fixing bugs in open source software without contributing your fixes back upstream.

    • Using Wikipedia without fixing errors you find.

    • Leaving an amusement park for lunch.

    • Using a web browser but changing the default search engine.

    • Reading ad supported stuff but never buying anything from the ads.

    For example, Sony sold the PS3 below cost because they expected people would make make up for it through paying higher prices for games, but someone buying thousands of them to build a supercomputer breaks their business model. Or, Firefox is funded by selling the right to be the default browser (in the US they switched from Google to Yahoo in 2014 and then back to Google in 2017) and if you choose your own default search engine you're slightly weakening Firefox's negotiating position.

    In some cases we make this sort of behavior illegal: you're not allowed to decrypt satellite TV, even though it's being transmitted unasked right at your house. In other cases it's not illegal, but people mostly don't do it through some combination of "I don't want to be a jerk" and "it's not worth it": no one harvests freesheets for the paper. And in other cases it's common and widely acceptable, but not so common that distribution stops being economically viable for the provider: I've never heard someone suggest it's wrong to change your browser's default search engine.

    Overall you could call this category freeloading, in that you're benefiting without 'paying' your share, but this mostly seems appropriate for things in the middle, like bypassing newspaper paywalls or ignoring radio pledge drives.

    People can also be wrong about their likely future decisions, enough that providers sometimes view these exchanges differently than you'd expect. Even someone who goes into an interview completely intending to use it as practice might end up realizing they're interested in the company, or later suggest the company to someone who would be a better fit.

    There's also often some amount of price discrimination, where the provider makes money when people do the convenient thing (buying food inside) and a small number of frugal people will do less convenient things (going out to your car to eat a packed lunch).

    I'm not sure how to think about this category of things in general: I'm torn between "the hole in your business model is not my problem" and "if enough people did it our options would be a lot worse". Often I'll think about it case-by-case, based on whether I think the status quo is good and how damaging I think the action would be. For example, I don't use an ad blocker because I think pushing sites to switch to paywalls makes the web worse, but I think it's fine when people don't contribute to Wikipedia unless they want to.

    Other considerations? Better ways of thinking about this?

    Comment via: facebook, lesswrong

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