Pirate Sites and the Dying Art of Customer Service


With many pirate sites developing reputations for instability recently, there's an increasing need among users for more information about problems and downtime. However, the trend is the opposite, with users left guessing about site outages while communication channels stay silent. But really - are pirates in any position to demand high-quality customer service?

Consumers of products and services in the West are now more educated than ever before. They often research before making a purchase and view follow-up assistance as part of the package. Indeed, many companies live and die on the levels of customer support they’re able to offer.

In this ultra-competitive world, we send faulty technology items straight back to the store, cancel our unreliable phone providers, and switch to new suppliers for the sake of a few dollars, pounds or euros per month. But does this demanding environment translate to the ‘pirate’ world?

It’s important to remember that when the first waves of unauthorized platforms appeared after the turn of the century, content on the Internet was firmly established as being ‘free’. When people first fired up KaZaA, LimeWire, or the few fledgling BitTorrent portals, few could believe their luck. Nevertheless, the fact that there was no charge for content was quickly accepted as the standard.

That’s a position that continues today but for reasons that are not entirely clear, some users of pirate sites treat the availability of such platforms as some kind of right, holding them to the same standards of service that they would their ISP, for example.

One only has to trawl the comments section on The Pirate Bay to see hundreds of examples of people criticizing the quality of uploaded movies, the fact that a software crack doesn’t work, or that some anonymous uploader failed to deliver the latest album quickly enough. That’s aside from the continual complaints screamed on various external platforms which bemoan the site’s downtime record.

For people who recall the sheer joy of finding a working Suprnova mirror for a few minutes almost 15 years ago, this attitude is somewhat baffling. Back then, people didn’t go ballistic when a site went down, they savored the moment when enthusiastic volunteers brought it back up. There was a level of gratefulness that appears somewhat absent today, in a new world where free torrent and streaming sites are suddenly held to the same standards as Comcast or McDonalds.

But while a cultural change among users has definitely taken place over the years, the way sites communicate with their users has taken a hit too. Despite the advent of platforms including Twitter and Facebook, the majority of pirate site operators today have a tendency to leave their users completely in the dark when things go wrong, leading to speculation and concern among grateful and entitled users alike.

So why does The Pirate Bay’s blog stay completely unattended these days? Why do countless sites let dust gather on Twitter accounts that last made an announcement in 2012? And why don’t site operators announce scheduled downtime in advance or let people know what’s going on when the unexpected happens?

“Honestly? I don’t have the time anymore. I also care less than I did,” one site operator told TF.

“11 years of doing this shit is enough to grind anybody down. It’s something I need to do but not doing it makes no difference either. People complain in any case. Then if you start [informing people] again they’ll want it always. Not happening.”

Rather less complimentary was the operator of a large public site. He told us that two decades ago relationships between operators and users were good but have been getting worse ever since.

“Users of pirate content 20 years ago were highly technical. 10 years ago they were somewhat technical. Right now they are fucking watermelon head puppets. They are plain stupid,” he said.

“Pirate sites don’t have customers. They have users. The definition of a customer, when related to the web, is a person that actually buys a service. Since pirates sites don’t sell services (I’m talking about public ones) they have no customers.”

Another site operator told us that his motivations for not interacting with users are based on the changing legal environment, which has become steadily and markedly worse, year upon year.

“I’m not enjoying being open like before. I used to chat keenly with the users, on the site and IRC [Internet Relay Chat] but i’m keeping my distance since a long time ago,” he told us.

“There have always been risks but now I lock everything down. I’m not using Facebook in any way personally or for the site and I don’t need the dramas of Twitter. Everytime you engage on there, problems arise with people wanting a piece of you. Some of the staff use it but I advise the contrary where possible.”

Interested in where the boundaries lie, we asked a couple of sites whether they should be doing more to keep users informed and if that should be considered a ‘customer service’ obligation these days.

“This is not Netflix and i’m not the ‘have a nice day’ guy from McDonalds,” one explained.

“If people want Netflix help then go to Netflix. There’s two of us here doing everything and I mean everything. We’re already in a pinch so spending time to answer every retarded question from kids is right out.”

Our large public site operator agreed, noting that users complain about the most crazy things, including why they don’t have enough space on a drive to download, why a movie that’s out in 2020 hasn’t been uploaded yet, and why can’t they login – when they haven’t even opened an account yet.

While the responses aren’t really a surprise given the ‘free’ nature of the sites and the volume of visitors, things don’t get any better when moving up (we use the term loosely) to paid ‘pirate’ services.

Last week, one streaming platform in particular had an absolute nightmare with what appeared to be technical issues. Nevertheless, some of its users, despite only paying a few pounds per month, demanded their pound of flesh from the struggling service.

One, who raised the topic on Reddit, was advised to ask for his money back for the trouble caused. It raised a couple of eyebrows.

“Put in a ticket and ask [for a refund], morally they should,” the user said.

The use of the word “morally” didn’t sit well with some observers, one of which couldn’t understand how the word could possibly be mentioned in the context of a pirate paying another pirate money, for a pirate service that had broken down.

“Wait let me get this straight,” the critic said. “You want a refund for a gray market service. It’s like buying drugs off the corner only to find out it’s parsley. Do you go back to the dealer and demand a refund? You live and you learn bud. [Shaking my head] at people in here talking about it being morally responsible…too funny.”

It’s not clear when pirate sites started being held to the same standards as regular commercial entities but from anecdotal evidence at least, the problem appears to be getting worse. That being said and from what we’ve heard, users can stop holding their breath waiting for deluxe customer service – it’s not coming anytime soon.

“There’s no way to monetize support,” one admin concludes.

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