Editorials, Featured

Editorial: Lies, Damned Lies, and the Promise of Free Gadgets

It is a well-known fact that we, as human beings, love the concept of getting something for nothing. This is evidenced by the level of excitement and engagement that contests and giveaways attract; big technology sites like Engadget and The Verge organize such events every now and then, and so do we.

Most of these contests are completely legitimate and hand out compelling and popular gadgets and accessories to the people lucky enough to win them. However, I think it is important for us to be able to distinguish between a legitimate giveaway and contests that perhaps have more nefarious aims, some of which are designed to bait the attention of the masses by promising free gadgets in order to accomplish some other objective and never actually handing anything out. In this editorial, I shall be explaining some of the tell-tale signs that a giveaway you come across on the Internet might not be what it seems at first glance by making use of (what is by now) a well-known example: @WP_Discovery.

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[title]1. A distinct lack of information[/title]
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Rarely do you find a contest or giveaway that does not have an associated website, a list of terms and conditions (as is legally required), an entry deadline, details of the organization(s) sponsoring the prizes or providing funds for the contests and ways to contact the organizers of the contest. WP Discovery does not provide any of this information, and even the location specified on the Twitter account is questionable; it stated Helsinki last week but was changed to London this week. In the absence of such details, can a particular contest and its organizers be considered legitimate in any sense of the word?

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[title]2. The identity of winners is not disclosed[/title]
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Excluding some exceptions, the winners of giveaways are usually disclosed publicly once a random draw has been conducted. This is to signal the end of a giveaway as well as to prevent any suspicion regarding the contest and its organizers; you may have noticed that almost all contests stipulate that employees of the organization(s) involved in running the giveaway are barred from participating in order to avoid corruption from taking place and to ensure that the contest is fair.

WP Discovery asserts that it informs the winners of its giveaway privately via Twitter Direct Messages, which is completely non-transparent and prevents any third party from being able to independently confirm the authenticity of the contest. Instead, they provide the countries that their winners supposedly reside in, which on a superficial level might be seen as proof that the winners are indeed human beings but actually proves nothing and is, in truth, unnecessary and irrelevant information.

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WP Discovery did not respond to our attempts to seek the details of a few of their prize winners for an interview as research for this piece; this raises questions in my mind as to whether these prize winners actually exist.

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[title]3. Unusually defensive and evasive stance by the organizers towards people who question the contest’s authenticity[/title]
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It is not a norm, nor is it the hallmark of professionalism for contest organizers like WP Discovery to attempt to suppress people who question the authenticity of the contest and promote people who speak up for them, immediately adopt a defensive stance about their activities or evade otherwise innocent questions like what we attempted to ask of them; the question of authenticity usually does not even need to be asked, and is addressed in a clear and open manner when it is. That is exactly what WP Discovery has not managed to do, as evidenced by two of their Twitter posts below:

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[title]4. Insider tip: Devices sent to members of the press are often on loan and cannot be sold or given away[/title]
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Here at UnleashthePhones, we receive devices from lovely PR folk as members of the press so that we can write up reviews for you. However, we do not usually get to keep these devices; they are on short term loan (we usually have them for 2 weeks) and we have to return them. It goes without saying that we cannot sell these devices or give them away as part of questionable contests.

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WP Discovery‘s assertion that they are members of the press in the tweet shown above is especially questionable because they also said that they were insiders – in their own words, “the guys who tip the news sites”. It seems to me that they are assuming whatever identity is most convenient at the point in time; it is plausible that one would receive devices for free as a member of the press and choose to give them away (going by layman reasoning). It is also plausible that industry insiders would have an interest in staying anonymous and protecting their true identities in order to do what they do. None of this implies truth.

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It is also worth considering that industry insiders tend not to run giveaways.

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[title]5. Worldwide giveaways of this ilk are rare and prohibitively expensive and difficult to carry out[/title]
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Legislation governing contests differs from country to country, and the vast majority of giveaways you come across are limited to a particular country because the contest is easier to administer that way and the organizers are relieved from having to pay expensive shipping and customs fees. The notion that an otherwise unknown outfit like WP Discovery is able to run a worldwide giveaway should already set the alarm bells ringing.

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[title]6. The presence of potential conflicts of interest (updated)[/title]
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WP Discovery seems rather enthusiastic about promoting Blockfall, a 99-cent Windows Phone game that has just been launched. The developers behind Blockfall state that they have no connection to WP Discovery and WP Discovery corroborates their statement. However, the behaviour of WP Discovery is not consistent with that statement, because WP Discovery openly promotes it and helps the official Blockfall Twitter account attract more followers.

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One of the contests that WP Discovery runs involves playing Blockfall and reaching the top of the leaderboard to win a phone. According to WP Discovery, Blockfall was chosen for the contest purely based on the merits of the game. The contest could, however, result in an increase in the sales of the game involved. After all, logically speaking, pretty much all but one hoping to win the contest will lose.

I have been asked to state that: Areon, the developers behind Blockfall, are an independent company not related to WP Discovery. WP Discovery is making this competition on its own, without any arrangements with Areon, which are the developers of Blockfall.

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[title]7. The Too Good To Be True Metric[/title]
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Experience and gut sense would probably inform you that WP Discovery seems too good to be true – an entity that you know next to nothing about is running giveaways involving such a large number of expensive gadgets whose sources are unknown.

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Nothing seems to match up regarding the information WP Discovery does give; apart from the afore-mentioned confusion that they seem to have about who they are and where they are based, their Twitter bio also states “We distribute B-Ware and Second-Hands to people just like you.”

However, none of the devices in the provided photos look used, and the notion that these products are B-Ware is questionable at best; B-Ware is defined as refurbished products (that have been repaired and restored), products with cosmetic defects, products in non-original packaging, surplus goods or swap stock (products held in inventory for warranty exchange purposes).

It is not likely that an entity like WP Discovery would be able to access swap stock (unless they have stolen it); while you could assume that the prizes on offer are comprised of surplus goods, confirming WP Discovery‘s authenticity based on that sole assumption ignores all the other factors in question here.

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[title]What You Can Do[/title]
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If you’re currently following WP Discovery on Twitter, do go ahead and unfollow them. If you think they’re spam, mark them as such. I am sure you would agree that we can all do with less spam on our Twitter timelines these days, and your attention can be better spent elsewhere than on questionable organizations such as WP Discovery. We ought to remain aware of the omnipresent fact that not everything we come across on the Internet is legitimate fact, and that when an offer seems too good to be true, that is probably what it is.

The promise of free gadgets can be hard to resist, but promises can turn out to be lies.

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[title]Update[/title]
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Shortly after this editorial went live, a source from WMPowerUser got in touch with emails from someone behind WP Discovery, which in my opinion is conclusive evidence of what the outfit is attempting to do.

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In addition, Gary Ewan Park has also published a post on his blog about WP Discovery which you can read here, exposing additional interesting and notable information about their behaviour.

  • theslayer

    Alvin Wong, keep them editorials coming! It’s so much refreshing to lay eyes on a story where the author sits down, does his analysis and pens down a really long and informative article.

    Although I have to point out, it would’ve been a lot better to include other entities that engage is such fake contests instead of just wp discovery.

    And what’s with the horde of screenshots instead of embedding the tweets themselves?

    Thanks again for the fantastic read and let’s hope people take a moment to think about the authenticity of a contest before tweeting about it.

    • Alvin Wong

      Thanks! There are other fake contests out there but WP Discovery is the one getting a surprisingly high amount of attention at the moment so they were significant to my article.

      I screenshot their tweets because they have been known to delete their own tweets and I wanted to hold on to the evidence.

      • bnlf

        the funny thing is if they had all those gadgets why would they need ppl to buy their $0.99 app? probably 2-3k ppl bought the app, thats nothing compared to the value of all their “contest” devices. They “had” from several smartphones to surfaces RT and even Pro. When they said Pro i was certain they were a scam.

  • http://twitter.com/sumitkm Sumit Maitra

    Here’s more… when @shanselman challenged them they started swearing (deleted later) https://twitter.com/shanselman/status/285108934933610496

    Even the Account @Lady_ashlea (quoted in article above) started having doubts https://twitter.com/shanselman/status/285136162941702144

  • bnlf

    the best ppl can do is to negative their app. Blockfall. When they announced the competition for a chance to win a surface they included a custom score called wpdiscovery at the top (almost 12k points). They removed it now when ppl started to argue if the score was possible and if they were real. give it 1 star

  • http://twitter.com/Jack_Merson Jack Merson

    Well, those prizes are too good to be true actually. At first, they came as the App Highlights, which have the same logo as Nokia’s App Highlights in Nokia Lumia, and they came to said that the official Instagram will come and every popular games would have an update or whatsoever. Suddenly, they changed to WP Highlights (Or anything like that) and claiming that they had an insider on Nokia that tip them. And finally this, the WP Discovery…
    No matter how much you ask them, they WON’T reply, simply because they are lies!
    Good to see such articles by the way.

  • http://www.windowsobserver.com/ Richard Hay

    Terrific and thorough post. Well done. If this is returns, etc. then where are they getting the Surfaces? Not sure Microsoft is selling them off cheap and same thing for the Lumina 920’s. Everything about this points to a follower scam. Again, well done on the story.

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