Home > Articles

  • Print
  • + Share This
Like this article? We recommend

When Companies Fire Their Customers

Why should we care that a private company terminated a customer's account? Smart companies fire their customers all the time.[21] Does something make Ludlow's firing special?

EA could have had a variety of reasons for terminating Ludlow's account, including their stated belief that he was violating their user agreement. However, for the sake of argument, let's assume that this claim was purely pretextual to obscure the fact that EA vindictively and discriminatorily censored Ludlow. Characterized this way, we instinctively react negatively and emotionally to the specter of censorship. For example, one commentator hyperbolically claimed that EA "acts like a classic despot, using its powers to single out individual critics for the dungeons and the firing squads. [...] [T]he Herald censorship smacks more of tyranny for its own sake."[22]

However, when cooler heads prevail, we recognize that online providers routinely terminate accounts when users violate the provider's private rules. In some cases, providers censor customers for reasons—such as spam prevention—that are widely applauded.[23] If other online providers can enforce their private rules to curtail user speech, why shouldn't virtual world providers be free to do so as well?

Virtual world advocates typically advance three principal arguments to distinguish other online providers and explain why we should limit virtual world providers' discretion to terminate their customers:

  • Virtual worlds are immersive.
  • Virtual worlds allow players to invest and create real-world wealth.
  • Virtual world participants face switching costs.

Virtual Worlds Are Immersive

The first argument is that virtual world participants may psychologically feel that they are immersed in the virtual world and, in some cases, spend more hours online than in the physical world.[24] However, even if some participants immerse themselves in a virtual world, we still need a reason to find legal significance in these self-perceptions. People can declare themselves part of a virtual republic (and, in fact, do so regularly[25]), but this doesn't mean that we should recognize these virtual republics as sovereign equivalents. So long as these individuals have a physical presence in the "real" world, they remain governed by real-world laws, despite their psychological declarations. The immersion argument is more an indictment of those participants' ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy than a reason to create new legal rules.

Virtual Worlds Allow Players To Invest and Create Real-World Wealth

The second argument is that virtual world assets have real value.[26] An exchange rate may develop between in-game economies and physical world economies,[27] giving some virtual assets a tangible, quantifiable, real-world cash value/opportunity cost. However, virtual worlds are not unique in this regard; cyberspace is filled with virtual assets that have real-world value. Domain name registrars sell virtual locations (domain names), web publishers sell advertisers virtual real estate (positions on a web page), and web sites even create an exchange rate between virtual near-currency (such as airline miles or other loyalty program points) and cash.[28]

Moreover, all of these virtual assets are built on a user agreement. With respect to virtual worlds, almost all user agreements give the provider unlimited discretion to change the world or terminate the participant's access at its sole discretion. Therefore, a participant chooses to "create" value in virtual world assets premised on a shaky contractual foundation. Participants still have legal recourse for a provider's capricious actions; contract law, consumer protection, and other laws may still apply.[29] However, absent deception, contract-termination rights are generally upheld, even if the termination causes the terminated party to lose value.[30]

Virtual World Participants Face Switching Costs

The third argument is that participants make significant investments in a virtual world, and switching to alternatives creates costs.[31] Some virtual world participants spend hundreds of hours building relationships, reputations, and virtual assets, much or all of which is lost if the participant exits the virtual world. In theory, these switching costs could cause market failures by making it too costly for market participants to freely vote with their wallets and reward (or punish) virtual world providers appropriately.

Despite these investments, providers still feel the effects of market forces for several reasons:

  • Participants invest at different levels. Although heavily invested participants get the most attention (and make the most noise), many paying customers are casual users with trivial switching costs.
  • Competitors can offer marketing programs or product features that can induce participants—even the heavily invested ones—to switch.[32]
  • Heavily invested participants who don't terminate or switch may lose their enthusiasm for the world and decrease their contributions to the community accordingly, which can cause the world to atrophy and thereby make the community less compelling to newcomers.[33]
  • Word of mouth, especially about games, works really well as a market mechanism. If anything, the Internet (through blogs, enthusiast/fan sites, and product review sites) has strengthened the market. Bad buzz about a virtual world will keep away prospective new customers.[34] Therefore, even if investments inhibit competitive switching, providers still feel the marketplace effects of their choices.

Meanwhile, in other contexts, customers routinely incur some costs to switch between vendors. With respect to some online services (especially communication-oriented services such as email, web hosting, and blogs), these switching costs are not trivial but don't support regulatory intervention. Why should we give greater legal significance to the switching costs incurred in virtual worlds? As discussed above regarding commoditization, this issue seems especially problematic when the participant deliberately chose to incur switching costs, knowing that the provider could make unilateral choices at any time.

Conclusion on Virtual World Differences

Without a doubt, virtual worlds are both academically interesting and emotionally compelling. They can have richly textured visual environments, complex and absorbing storylines, curious denizens, and strong communities. However, we cannot let our fascination with virtual worlds and the people who occupy them cloud our judgment. Proponents of new rules for virtual worlds need to prove that virtual worlds should be treated differently than other online providers. This discussion has raised significant questions about the proffered justifications.

Meanwhile, rules to protect virtual world participants from private censorship could have unintended consequences. Specifically, these rules would restrict providers' choices about how to deal with unwanted speech. These restrictions distort providers' abilities to make profit-maximizing decisions, which in turn increases providers' financial risk and reduces incentives to invest in the industry. Converting private virtual world providers into state actors could paradoxically limit speech, not increase it.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020