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Microsoft casts WinME sweepstake adrift

Broken promises could breach state anti-competitive practices

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Exclusive Microsoft appears to have abandoned a promotional sweepstake that promised fifty winners a day a commemorative edition of Windows ME signed by Bill Gates. This week the sweep has been suspended, with only a brief explanation on the front page stating that "technical difficulties" were to blame.

Click for full-size imageThis evening US Pacific Time, the sweepstake's front page had been restored, but clicking on the links to subsections indicates that the site maintainers have removed those pages. It doesn't have the postal entry information which effectively shuts down the entire sweepstakes.

The original - and now unreachable - promotion copy featured lead-ons such as: "Hurry up and register... for special-edition *advanced* copies of Windows Me!"... "50 winners a day will receive... Windows Me software *before it's available in stores!*" and "You could be the first one on your block to land a copy of Windows Me, *before the stores even get theirs!"

However a rider in the small print stated that entrants would need to wait up to eight weeks for their prize. And only the newly published winners pages mention that the copies wouldn't actually be shipped until 1 September. As a result some may be waiting into late October for their "advanced" copies. Windows ME is due to ship in mid-September

Since the competition's home page promises winners advanced copies, it could well fall foul of state legislation that protects consumers against misleading promotions. Failure to give postal instructions to website visitors instead of the apology on the front page could also fall foul of consumer protection
legislation.

For example, Colorado's Consumer Protection Act classifies such behaviour as Deceptive trade practices, which has been breached when someone "[6-1-105. (jj)] Represents to any person that such person has won or is eligible to win any award, prize, or thing of value as the result of a contest, promotion, sweepstakes, or drawing, or that such person will receive or is eligible to receive free goods, services, or property, unless, at the time of the representation, the person has the present ability to supply such award, prize, or thing of value;"

Failure to publish the rules while the competition is in progress could also fall foul of consumer protection legislation. And Colorado for example, takes such misdemeanors seriously: breaches of the Protection Act "shall be prima facie evidence of intent to injure competitors and to destroy or substantially lessen competition." Uh-huh...

Register reader Chris Regan, a consultant in Virgina, was one of the earliest entrants, and was looking forward to his copy. "Microsoft should have had their software ready before conducting drawings and announcing winners. Announcing a month delay after the sweepstakes began is of questionable legality," he told us.

We contacted Microsoft for an explanation this afternoon, but neither the company nor its US PR agency has yet to give us a response. ®

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