Welcome to our weekly feature, “Question Of The Week.” As you can tell from that entirely original title each week we pose a question to our panel and they chime in with their opinions. No one sees one another’s responses until the story is posted, so each contributors thoughts are their own. Responses are posted in no particular order.
And remember, as with all editorials, the views expressed in this editorial are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Cliqist.com.
The question of the week for the week of 4/20/14 is :
Should Kickstarter have an obligation to protect backers from incompetent or scam campaigns? How about the other way around?
Charlotte “Charlie” Humphries
The simple answer is yes. While we don’t want to think that anybody would abuse the system, it happens and casts a bad light on all involved. And Kickstarter is a business as well as a platform. To generate more interest and more money for projects, potential backers need to now that their money will be going towards exactly what the description says. And this goes for those running the projects too: they need to know that they’re going to get the money and support they deserve.
If Kickstarter were required to protect backers/organizers from each other it would definitely cause a lot more trouble for Kickstarter themselves. The site does owe it to users to investigate claims of scams and shut down obviously illegal/fake projects but beyond that there’s little they can do. Sometimes projects aren’t scams at the onset but become “like” a scam once the project leads realize they cannot tackle their plans even with funding.
As for protecting against fake funders, well, that’s a bit tougher. The web is rife with fraudulent payments, impersonation, and more and unfortunately there’s not a great way to handle it all. Consumers still have a great deal of freedom online so things like retracting funding are completely fair to do. As for accounts being made by organizers themselves… Kickstarter wouldn’t be able to investigate every single instance of this even if they tried to.
It’s a bit hard to say. Kickstarter is mainly the way people are accessing these projects and getting involved. In the end, the money is going to the developers rather than Kickstarter. It’s the just the messenger, in a sense. Unfortunately, sometimes there are very convincing and attractive campaigns that seemed pretty solid. Sometimes there just isn’t a reason to doubt the project and it seems like everything is legitimate. It wasn’t the backers nor Kickstarter’s fault if the campaign is a scam, it’s just something unfortunate. In that case, Kickstarter could make consequences for this by redesigning their system a little bit. Maybe make it a part of an agreement that if the company misuses the funds or scams the backers, the funds should be reimbursed. If a company fails to do so, that may be some ground for legal action to take place. If Kickstarter organizes conditions where there are consequences for faulty campaigns, the backers have a bit more security.
Kickstarter collects quite a bit in fees, and while customers do have a responsibility to invest wisely, Kickstarter should have something to at least partially protect users in some cases. At the same time, if a project goes awry, the company who was in charge of the campaign should also be responsible, and I think if a penalty system was in place, Kickstarter would be a better place. Scammers would stay away, and people would put more work into their campaigns. I’ve seen too many Kickstarters go wrong because of lofty goals and unrealistic estimates, and if Kickstarter made people more responsible for their own mistakes, consumers would be more confident in their investments, and Kickstarter would grow.
Mitchell “Moe” Long
I must admit I’m not entirely sure what the correct answer is here. Having wondered before about Kickstarter liability, I’d stumbled across this post.
A protection policy might encourage audience funding which I do think is beneficial. Kickstarter professes to screen posts pre-launch. They therefore assume responsibility for projects. However they do state that failed campaigns don’t result in refunded money. I don’t feel that a scam falls into the same category. Kickstarter should definitely add a scam clause, as they’re at fault. The screening process didn’t protect potential customers. Incompetent campaigns unfortunately pose a different scenario. While it’d be fantastic to provide refunds, each unsuccessful project would likely be deemed “incompetent” by backers.
Essentially refunding failed campaigns boils down to a tradeoff: don’t compensate backers and risk losing future Kickstarter supporters, or mandate money back and possibly lose developer support. Based on those options, I’d probably rather lose backers than frighten developers but there’s really not an ideal solution. I’d definitely advocate for a protection clause against scams though, as Kickstarter claims to have a screening process.
While I feel for anyone who donates money to a Kickstarter project only to get less than what they expected, I don’t think Kickstarter themselves have an obligation to really protect people from these situations. When you back a project on Kickstarter, you go in knowing the risks. It isn’t the same as buying a product; you’re donating money to fund that product before it’s made. It’s on the Kickstarter user to determine whether or not a project is worth donating to. It’s also hard to determine what project is a scam or not–there aren’t really any requirements for starting a Kickstarter outside of having an idea. You could ask backers to fund the whole thing, from the ground up, if you’re popular enough. Again, it is up to the backers to determine what makes a project worth funding.
As far as the other way around, that’s a bit trickier. There should certainly be measures in place to ensure anyone donating money is, you know, actually donating that money. Once the deadline hits, the money promised should be the money that transfers over. It’s on Kickstarter to make sure this works properly.
I wish Kickstarter would step up and make a firm statement regarding their protection policies, sure they have guidelines that’s indicate project creators are responsible for delivering on their promises, but they’ve never taken action on that. They need to just say that backers donate money at their own risk, that they could very well lose their money, and move on. Don’t put some confusing verbiage about backer responsibilities in the disclaimer then direct people to the project lead once things go south. Backers should also get their heads straight about what they’re doing when they back a project. They’re not pre-ordering, investing in, or buying anything, they’re donating to a non-tax deductible charity. When I back a project I just assume that I’ll never see that money again. The benefit of that is that when the creators come through with what they promised I think “ohh cool!” instead of “finally!”
As for project creators getting scammed by fake backers looking for free swag; deal with it. Reverse payments have been a problem for online retailing since the beginning, and it will continue to be. Project creators can better protect themselves by focusing less on physical rewards, not shipping rewards too soon, and really looking at who their backers are and engaging with them.
Thanks to everyone that participated! Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments. Be sure to let us know if you have any questions you’d like us to answer in future editions of Question of the Week! be sure to check out some of our previous editions as well.
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