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Unfortunate Advertising at TPMmuckraker


The advertisement at the top of a story this morning on held out the promise of a “Free Apple iPhone.” I had to turn off the audio come-on that launched when I loaded the page, which was annoying enough. But that’s not why I note this ad, or why Joshua Micah Marshall, proprietor of the TPMmuckraker site, and his colleagues should reconsider whether they want to do business with this particular advertiser.

Take a look at David Lazarus’ column in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle, “No Such Thing as a Free Laptop.” He was writing about a similar offer at a different website. But the sites’ designs have a great deal in common (including identical “testimonials” and the same “Help Desk” phone numbers). Most of the sites’ terms and conditions are also word-for-word identical, though there are a few differences.

Lazarus writes of these terms:

Clicking a link at for “program requirements” — not that most people would — reveals enough loopholes and disclaimers to make clear that the free laptop is perhaps anything but.

Among other things, the requirements say participants must:

— Provide their names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

— Agree to receive marketing pitches and other communications from both TheUseful and its partners “via e-mail, telemarketing, direct marketing, mobile marketing and any other method.”

— Comply with all provisions of the agreement, including one that says you have to sign up for no fewer than 10 solicitations from program sponsors and can’t cancel any of them for at least 60 days.

Even then, TheUseful reserves the right to “substitute any gift with another item of similar value, as determined in our sole discretion; or send you the cash equivalent for the gift, as determined in our sole discretion.”

Lazarus’ column quotes the Better Business Bureau of Southeastern Florida’s unhappiness with the site, and a spokesman who says, “Basically, they’re not coming through with their promises.”

TMPmuckraker deserves to succeed. Does it want to succeed with this kind of advertising?

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