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ECA Boss Hal Halpin Addresses Accusations of Fraud

| 9 Dec 2009 16:15
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In the wake of controversy surrounding accusations of wrongdoing levied at the Entertainment Consumers Association by a vocal minority, ECA CEO Hal Halpin has stepped in in an attempt to clear up muddied waters.

The situation in question is a bit too complex to be neatly summed up by even my mighty recap powers, but here goes: Last week, the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) - a consumer advocacy group - found itself at the center of a firestorm of controversy. The organization's accusers claimed that the ECA had offered discount codes on Amazon.com (and other retailers) as membership benefits, but had since removed said codes - and had also removed the option to turn off automatic renewal of one's membership in the association. The discount was used as a bait-and-switch tactic to get people to opt into a paid service which was then made irritatingly complex to opt out of, said critics.

The ECA quickly responded to these allegations, saying that the opt-out button had never actually worked and should never have been visible outside of internal testing, and that the only way to leave the organization had always been via snail mail since the very beginning. Furthermore, the removal of the discount coupons had been at the request of the partners like Amazon in response to a very small group of abusers exploiting a bug in the system that allowed them to stack codes by repeatedly joining the ECA's free trial. Still, many weren't convinced, and while the uproar seemed to die down, it was far from over.

In an attempt to address these concerns and set the record straight, ECA CEO Hal Halpin sat down with GameCulture to offer a comprehensive behind-the-scenes explanation of what had happened. When I say comprehensive, I do mean really, really comprehensive - it's very long, but sheds a lot of light on what was going on inside the ECA.

If I'm reading this correctly - and if Halpin is being entirely honest, which I have little reason to doubt - it seems like the controversy was a bit of a "Perfect Storm" scenario. As far as the partners were concerned, an influx of new users with a 10% discount was hardly a bad thing, since it was a largely untapped market - that 10% off the price was simply the cost of getting a new potential customer. For them, the problem was twofold: People joining and re-joining for new codes meant that the supply of available codes was depleted much more quickly than anticipated, meaning that it would take time to generate new ones - and when news of the stacking glitch spread, the acceptable discount quickly became unacceptable.

On the ECA's end, it was a combination of poor timing, lack of communication, and the fact that since all of the staffers were also members they wouldn't have ever seen the "opt out" button that seemed to have been only displaying for people on a free trial account (which wasn't supposed to be live in the first place). Denizens of the internet being denizens of the internet, a vocal minority quickly became inflamed and took to harassing ECA employees, the partners in question, and even the Better Business Bureau with some less-than-cordial language.

While the Halpin interview answered most of the issues I had with the situation, there's one question that still sticks out in my mind - I understand that the whole "you can only leave via snail mail" clause has been there from the beginning, but... why? It seems very inconvenient to me, especially given that the sort of people who would likely join the ECA aren't really the sort who use snail mail in their everyday lives. But then again, that's not necessarily relevant to these accusations of wrongdoing - it's just irritating.

If you've been following the situation from the beginning, the Halpin chat is worth a read - and while I have no doubt that it won't answer every question for everybody, it does shine quite the floodlight on the controversy.

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