Discriminating Against India

By , July 29, 2009

While seeking techical support for Norton SystemWorks today, I was extremely annoyed to be connected several times to “chat support agents” in India who could not communicate effectively in English.  I ended up abandoning five separate “chat support sessions,” because none of the six “chat agents” seemed to understand any English.  Eventually, after wasting more than an hour, I received a return telephone call from Norton staff in India who did understand English, and we worked through my technical problems.

Which brings me to a recent question posed by a web publisher in India: “Why do merchants discriminate against Indian web publishers?

My answer: It’s a form of triage. (Okay, that’s not quite the right word, because it’s simply discrimination — but unfortunately, absolutely necessary discrimination.)

The problem is pretty simple: in the past, several companies have had teams of people in India, China, Eastern Europe, and some other low-wage countries, who each spent hours every day submitting affiliate-program applications to be used for fraudulent activity. Often, they “cloned” other web sites so they appeared legitimate.

The sheer volume (dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of affiliate applications) made it impossible for affiliate managers to keep up, and when sites were approved, an immediate flood of fraudulent activity drained more staff time, and led to 99% of these “offshore” affiliates being terminated.

Although there are certainly many honest, ethical web publishers in India (I’ve certainly met several at industry events, and exchanged emails with many more), many affiliate managers simply could not devote the time to screen out so many fake applications, try to recognize the few legitimate ones, and then respond to fraud activity when crooks were accepted. The result is that many affiliate programs restrict participation only to individuals in a few countries (rarely beyond the main English-speaking countries: US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ).

Of course, this doesn’t stop all of the the crooks: some use mail-drop addresses in the US, and others just create fake addresses, and pretend to be US-based web publishers. But most of the crooks just move on to other, more vulnerable affiliate programs (and there are many).

Some folks have suggested that sending a personal email to an affiliate manager might allow an exception; I doubt it, because I suspect that many of the crooks can also write convincing personal-sounding emails in order to try to persuade (trick) the affiliate manager to admit them into the affiliate program.

I had a similar experience when I was seeking bids for a web-development project last year: I received many dozens of responses from offshore programming teams, and when I followed up with the first couple dozen, I found that they wasted lots of my time, often using “echoing” strategies to make it sound as if they understood what I was discussing, but later submitting bizarre and incomprehensible “project proposals” that were absurd gibberish, usually with bid amounts that were ludicrously low. (I think many of these folks were just planning to collect a “deposit” and then move on.)

In work with clients, I’ve worked with competent development teams in India, Russia, and Ukraine, so I know that there are many competent web-development teams offshore. But it quickly became clear that 95% to 99% of the people who responded to my requests were either incompetent or unethical, and I simply could not afford to spend many hundreds of hours talking with offshore developers, most of whom were just wasting my time (and theirs).

It’s unfair, it’s discriminatory, and unfortunately, it’s necessary.

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