Saturday, August 23, 2003

SINGING CRISPS... THAT IS NEW: Anyone in the UK visiting websites that carry proper adverts rather than 'You are the 1,000,000th visitor' scam pop-ups will probably have seen (along with the bloody Rolling Stones one) the banner trying to flog cheap DVDs of Lord of the Rings to you. There are similar press adverts running at the moment too: Picture of that pugbox from the three-part Elf flick, a headline with two tick boxes saying '[] I'd give anything to own the Lord of the Rings on DVD [] Actually, I'd like change from a tenner'. While it makes for a change getting a rest from the otherwise wall to wall 118 adverts around at the moment, what's this all about? According to the smaller print, it's all to launch "The new way to buy Music & movies - Channel, from Universal Group." So, mail order is new, is it? The GBP9.99 price for LOTR is, of course, an introductory loss leader - the usual price of DVDs is a less-enticing GBP14.99 plus Postage and Packing; and to get that 'great' price (or nine quid for a CD - Universal promise "thousands" to choose from, which doesn't sound like that wide a range to us) you discover you're pledging to buy "three or more DVDs or CDs a year for the first two years - that's all." Ah, so Universal's 'new' way is, erm, actually Britannia's Old Way to buy movies and music. But at least with, say, those WH Smith book clubs you get some sort of saving - at 14.99 you're paying roughly the same price as at Amazon for your DVDs, but you're locked into a commitment with Channel. Also slightly dubious is that the advert doesn't tell you what version of the Lord of the Rings DVD you're getting - we're guessing you get the slightly less glitzy of the two, but the advert doesn't actually tell you or point out that another, better (if you like Tolkein) version is also available. Not breaking any law, but certainly sharp practice.

More disturbingly is the way this new way to buy music treats your personal information - the small print on the advert says "Universal Group Direct [...] may pass your name and address to other companies who offer products or services we believe you may be interested in. If you would prefer not to receive these, please write to us at..." - in other words, rather than providing a simple tick box to allow you to opt out of them passing on your details to anyone with a few quid to buy their mailing list, they put the onus on you to write a totally separate letter, to a different address. Unlike the 'send me video' coupon, this isn't a freepost address, either. Now, while they might not be breaking the letter of the Data Protection Act, the fact that any proper company can create a system which is apparently designed to make it too much of an effort to get off their Junk Mail List certainly runs against the spirit of the law, don't you think?

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