Laundry & The Responsibility of Search Engines
I’d like to take you on a journey through the world of scams, laundry, and search engines.
In 2016, Foldimate, a California based startup, showed the world a laundry folding robot - it was the size of a washing machine, with a slot in the top for garments that would be mechanically folded and then passed down into a tidy stack at the bottom.
I watched Foldimate with great interest, for you see, of all the daily chores of life that one must accomplish, folding laundry is the one I hate the most, put off the longest, and have tried to - mostly failing - hack my way out of for decades. I was (and honestly still am) the primary target market of this, frankly, very silly machine.
The greater market at large, however, could not care less - and, from some accounts, they never really got the machine to work that well - so in 2021, the company filed for bankruptcy and everyone who put a deposit down got it back.
That was the end of Foldimate.
I’m not exaggerating when I state how much I hate folding laundry. It is a chore I begrudgingly do, but every few months I’ll go down a rabbit hole of searches like
- “how to fold clothes faster”
- “fastest shirt folding method”
- “is marie kondo fold fastest way” (it is)
- “forum for people who hate folding clothes”
It is through this very specific pattern that I began to notice someone else attempting (and I think succeeding at) a hustle with Foldimates ghost. I’d like to now share with you a screenshot of a recent search for “Foldimate”
Let’s walk through what we see here.
- A sidebar listing taking information from Wikipedia. The only note that the company is now defunct is that the description is in the past tense.
- The top two links are websites claiming to sell the Foldimate. In fact, of the six links in the screenshot, three are scam websites.
- A Verge article, nearly five years old, headlines with “[the] machine actually works now”
- There’s a Facebook link to their defunct page.
I’d like to point out that this is not a Kagi problem. Every search engine I’ve tried has the exact same UX problems I’m trying to point out here:
- For some reason, the scam websites have better SEO than The Verge, Wikipedia, or Facebook.
- Their is absolutely no way to identify at a glance if the website is sketchy or not.
- The information provided in the sidebar, while true, also fails to convey the company’s bankrupt status
- The Verge articles age is not clear at first glance.
In fact, Google is by far the worst offender, as their “People also ask” section links directly to the scam sites in question.
If you had no prior knowledge of Foldimate - let’s say your grandmother performed this search - it would be extremely difficult to tell at a glance that these sites are disreputable.
And Foldimate isn’t the only such ghost company getting abused like this - check out Drew Gooden’s similar investigation into the “Bean Bed”
Who is responsible for someone falling for a scam?
Traditionally, the person being duped is the only one held accountable for their mistake.
In the era of LLM’s people chat with to receive information, and these bots (and their creators) being held more and more accountable for the information the bots provide, I think it’s laughable to think that search engines don’t have a similar responsibility to ensure the information they’re providing is non-malicious.
I don’t have a solution to this. In bringing this up in the Kagi Feedback forum, Vlad makes an excellent point on how tricky this is to solve.
While I think a generalized, community curated list of scam-sites would be incredibly valuable, maintaining such a list is tricky, and ripe for abuse by bad actors.
Secondarily, I think this really highlights how easily abusable modern SEO is. The fact that a series of fresh Shopify sites can dominate in search rankings is frankly mind boggling.
Please reach out if you have any unique solutions.
Finally, while I don’t think that this solves the problem I’m highlighting here, I would like to take an opportunity to highlight this - Why does Shopify make it so difficult to report scam sites?
- Shopify does not need to collect my personal information for this
- There is no category for “Site is an Obvious Scam”, so I would have to try and pick a relevant category
- Why is the onus on the consumer to report the scam in the first place?
The fact that Shopify cares so little about what is run on their platform is a joke.