Amazon glitch offers unlimited free music

March 12, 2009 // 9:55 a.m.

Tags: #amazon #amazon-mp3 #amazon-mp3-store #asa #digital-distribution #digital-download #glitch #mp3 #voucher

A glitch in Amazon's voucher system lead to customers being treated to unlimited free MP3 downloads over the Christmas period, according to comments made to the Advertising Standards Authority.

As reported over on PC Pro, a special offer run by the company – which was supposed to give all customers £3 off any purchase from the MP3 Store during Christmas and Boxing Day – lead to a free-for-all as customers discovered that a supposedly single-use discount code could be applied to an account over and over again.

Responding to a complaint made to the Advertising Standards Authority from a series of customers confused as to why the voucher code had stopped working before its official expiration date of midnight on Boxing Day, Amazon confirmed that a member of its staff had “noticed forum threads which indicated that a system glitch permitted some customers to use the code repeatedly on the same account, giving them unlimited free downloads.

As is often the case with any discount of this nature, word of the loophole soon got out: with “many customers [redeeming] the discount code repeatedly, some more than 100 times” - which represents an attempt to receive more than £300 worth of music completely free – Amazon was forced to pull the plug prematurely.

The company denies any attempt to defraud customers who had been looking forward to their £3 discount, however: describing any attempt to e-mail the 2.8 million people who received the original offer as “impractical,” Amazon instead chose to cancel the voucher code and offer a refund of £3 per account if a purchase from the MP3 store was made on the two days over which the offer ran.

What the company isn't mentioning is exactly what happened to the accounts on which the voucher code had already been redeemed – especially the ones that received more than £300 of free music. While the company would be well within its rights to attempt to recover the money, doing so would likely prove difficult: charging the full price directly to registered credit cards would be a PR nightmare, and as the Amazon MP3 Store offers its digital downloads free from DRM there's no way to remove access to the music.

Were you one of the lucky ones who snagged vast quantities of MP3s during the promotion, or wouldn't you dream of exploiting a loophole in a company's systems like that? Should Amazon take the financial loss as a lesson to check its voucher systems more thoroughly next time? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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