CouchSurfing – New Age Scam

I came across CouchSurfing while going through a travel blog. I had heard about CS earlier, and this reference acted as a re-enforcement to install the App. This is where I started on an acquisition flow, which was so cleverly designed to trap the users, that even in the hindsight it is improbable to spot this trick.

Let us go through the on-boarding flow for CS:

1. First screen post Sign Up:

So you land on the front page, trying to figure out the navigation. And the first thing that you notice is the “Get Verified” link. In the current ecosystem, majority of the sites follow following two ways of verification:

1. ID proof / Mobile Verification – This is done to confirm the identity. Most of the social networks have mandated this.

2. Payment Details – Sites like AirBNB asks you to confirm your payment method. This is done with sole purpose to safeguard the hosts.

So I did not wait to question the CTA and continued with the flow to get started quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Farce of Verification Benefits

The verification page highlights the multiple “benefits” – Content bundled around a decent UI, with only a minor information missing – they actually forgot to mention that the verification is not FREE – of course one could argue that they never mentioned that it is FREE either. We shall come back to that.

Coming back to this page – It contains over 500 words, photos of verified members, “Testimonials” from the happy users, and logos of Forbes, Time, NYT and Guardian. A perfect setup you might say.

You can verify your account using either Credit Card or PayPal (Just getting this information as a safeguard, are we?)

I clicked on Credit Card and proceeded. Let’s see what happens now.

 

 

 

 

3. Surprise!!!

You land to the next page, not suspecting any foul play. Now look closely at this page. You might say that you can see the amount mentioned here – “Just Rs 3900 for life helps you meet the world” – Such a noble thought. But the objective of this design is to deceive the user.

– The text is intentionally kept vague, 3900 to meet the world. All the pricing principles asks the product owner to specify the payment details clearly on the checkout page. But these principles were made for ensuring good user experience. They do not make sense if you are concerned about creating false revenue channels.

– Notice the font color of the text? As light gray as could be. I wonder if they would have debated to keep the text color white – Why not go all the way?

– The bottom CTA says “Verify My Account”. If you explore other e-commerce sites, you will not find such a deceit elsewhere. All the sites says “Complete Payment” or “Pay Now”. Interestingly, CS says “Complete Payment” for iOS App. Reason – Apple is far stricter compared to Google in protecting users.

I, like many other users, was deceived. I entered the details and by the time I realized what was happening, I received an SMS from my bank. Another thing that got me here was absence of second factor authentication (company outside India – hence the false cover of security also played a part in the same).

CS can argue that they did mention the charge. But if they bring in this argument, they already lose. Victim blaming and hiding behing T&C has never helped any organization.

Once the first phase was over, I contacted both CS and my bank instantly (as I had no trust left in CS, even though they promised a full refund if requested within 72 hours). While I waited for them to respond, I checked for similar cases Online. No wonder Internet was full with similar complaints against CS. Here is a full list of the complaints: https://twitter.com/i/moments/900365776133206016

Apparently, CS did an AB experiment around Aug-2017, where they tried this new gold digging tool and it succeeded (obviously). The B users would have been more revenue generating, even after all the refunds (if honored). This is a perfect example of how not to run your business. I wonder how they intend to succeed, if they continue with this modern age scam.

I am reading stuff online to identify a way to escalate this (Not that this has not been done earlier, but one got to try). If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.

 

 

Who knows!

If I’d known, I would have done things differently.

– The Dry (Jane Harper)

 

I might have done things differently. Or I might have wanted them to stay the same. Who knows? In this world of jumbled realities, it’s better to leave things as they are, than looking too much into them.

All good things come to and end. MUST come to an end. I don’t think this is necessarily a negative statement. How can something new come until you let go of the old? But cannot you run along with both? Who knows! I guess I have to find out.

PATIENCE.

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Time Turner

He looked forward impatiently, as one might look to the moment of a journey that one does not particularly wish to take. And like any traveler, he felt that there were many things he had to do before he left, yet he could not think what they were.

~ John Williams, Stoner

 

I am at home right now, courtesy Holi holidays (Holiday to be precise, clubbed with weekend). We are continuously chasing deadlines, trying to squeeze out few days in order to escape the loop. I have been home for Holi for the first time in last 5 years.

 

2014. Mumbai.

I had just entered the loop of the professional life and was still stuck in chasing targets. I was in Mumbai, with my cousins and Sam. I was walking from Pedder Road to Priyadarshini Park, taking in all the visuals that filled up the surroundings. This was the first time I was seeing how the city looked like in the festive season. There was a sharp contrast with “UP ki Holi” – No one attacked me with a barrage of color balloons. I could not see shirtless, silver faced humans, tripling on a bike, shouting out their ecstasy to the other members of the silver-face community. It was all quite civilized and I reached PDP safe and sound, although I did not wished for the same. I missed my city and this was one of the very few things of the Maximum city that did not appeal to me.

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The World is Stone

The bus ride from Monachil to Granada was marked by the panoramic view of the hills of Sierra Nevada. The colorful corners cut across the street which twisted and moved like a serpent. The homes, like little crayon boxes, were stacked one above the other, on the hilly terrain. It was like the white city of Nerja, just a little more colorful, and slightly less spicy.

The bus ride from Monachil to Granada is marked by corners like these, repeated until the destination.

I was caught in a state of trance looking at the map, trying to memorize the path to Calle Elvira from the bus stop. I was glad and anxious to go around without the GPS. The next bus to Monachil would leave in 2 hours and that is all the time I had to go to Calle Elvira, procure what I came for, and make my way back to the stop. When we got down at Granada, everyone else started moving towards Alhambra, while I crossed the bridge and continued forward to the Plaza.

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Junction

I almost forgot about you.
As I thought.
But I will not give up on you yet.
Let’s see if we can get along.

Nothing but the blue sky from now on.
But what about the storm?
The overcast skies. Clouds storming in.
An angry gargoyle staring at us.
Let’s see if we can find calm in the storm, once again.

I don’t understand quotes.
They seem nothing more than just a few wise words.
Just as I don’t understand rhymes.
I cannot relate to it at that level.
We are the exceptions, of course.

The minority does not decide the nature of the society.
But we have always been firm believers in destiny.
Nothing could have been better. Nothing would be worse.
The balance will always be restored.

A complex game of probabilities.
Permutations and combinations of everyday life.
From the choice of coffee to our beliefs and ideologies.
A maze without a hero. Or a villain.

I almost forgot about you.
As I thought.
I see you peeking from the shadows.
The quest for clarity. You thought you almost had it.
Do you? Let’s see. Let’s see if we can still get along.
I will not give up on you yet.