Things I Learned From Forbes (II)

The March 14 issue of Forbes also has an article entitled "Funding Universe Matches Entrepreneurs With Loans. Is The Advice Worth The Price? which is about a company that takes fees from small businesses to help them look for loans. Some small businesses are dissatisfied with the service:

Two months ago Ray Armstrong entered his contact information on a website that looked like it was affiliated with the SBA. The next day he was contacted by a representative from a South Jordan, Utah outfit called Funding Universe. The rep said that for $99 Funding Universe would assess the Armstrongs’ financial situation and connect them with one of the company’s consultants. After reviewing the initial workup the consultant said he would pair the Armstrongs–for an additional fee of $2,600–with an appropriate lender and prepare their loan application. “He said that we were in a very good position to get this loan, and it shouldn’t be a problem,” says Susan Armstrong. “They told me everything I wanted to hear.”

After putting the fee on one of her credit cards, Armstrong says she came across scores of complaints from Funding Universe clients who claimed the company was a scam. Alarmed, she tried to cancel her order the next day. After a week of back and forth on the phone, the consultant told her she could get a 75% refund. She says she hasn’t heard from the company since. “I just want my money back,” she says.

The Armstrongs are among hundreds of customers–many not financially savvy–who believe they were misled by Funding Universe, which billed itself as a shepherd of capital for entrepreneurs. When credit gets tight, these intermediaries tend to come out of the woodwork.

Is it a shady business practice? Well, it does serve to part money from clients for doing some things that the clients could feasibly do themselves if they invested the time to understand a specialized marketplace and whatnot. You know, like accountants and attorneys interpret their specialized marketplaces. On the surface, maybe it’s not outright wrong but in its execution it’s exploitative.

However, this thing leaped out at me for obvious reasons:

Blake insists Lendio’s automated systems, now in testing, will yield better results than did Funding Universe’s eight overwhelmed consultants. As for fees, Lendio will give borrowers the names of two or three matches for free; an entire list of matches will cost $99. As with an online dating site, the matching process will happen electronically. Based on the borrower’s profile, lenders will approve or deny the loan. (Emphasis added.)

So, theoretically, there are actual testers working on the software for a sketchy enterprise. Is there any business, any technology business, that I would find it unethical to actually work for?

As I alluded to in the podcast with Matt Heusser, there are some consulting jobs that I won’t take because I recognize that they’re not likely to succeed, such as short term projects that rely exclusively on automated testing on an application still in a great deal of flux. I’m not going to help part a fool from his money; he’ll have to find someone to take his money just to take the money.

I’ve never turned down business because the business itself was immoral, though I could imagine myself doing so. What would trigger it? Any outright immorality, of course, but software is not really capable of murder, robbery, or burglary. It would have to be software designed to con or trick its users into giving up money or personal information under some sort of ruse I guess. It would have to be designed for that purpose, though: I wouldn’t rule out testing something that could be used for evil if it had a purpose that was not evil. Otherwise, I’d have to call e-mail clients evil since phishers rely on them.

But I not base my decision on whether the company is savaged on Web sites with the company name and “sucks” in the URL or who appear in magazines with consumer complaints, although how a business treats its customers probably correlates with how it treats its vendors.

I bet you didn’t come here for a discussion of what software is inherently immoral and if I would work on it, hey? But reading outside the field means my mind wanders outside the normal channels of thoughts on testing.

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