Who: Seagate Technology UK Ltd (“Seagate”)
Where: Advertising Standards Authority, UK
When: 26 March 2014
Law stated as at: 7 May 2014
Seagate ran a competition on their UK Facebook page where Facebook members could participate in a game to win prizes.
Seagate’s Facebook page announced: “SSHD Challenge… The challenge is on! Take on the challenge. Be the best. Win!”, and commented underneath “it’s time to announce our SSHD challenge! Would you like to win a selection of fabulous prizes? Check out the competition here… Best of luck!”
The terms and conditions of the competition stated that players would be “blacklisted” if they were to “reverse engineer, modify and/or change the game application’s client file” or “use any software or hadware that would alter the game application mechanics”, meaning they could no longer participate in the promotion or continue playing the game.
Four participants who were “blacklisted”, complained that they were not able to participate in the promotion or did not win the prize they deserved despite not having breached any of the terms and conditions of the competition.
The complainants argued that the competition had been administered unfairly, challenging the advertiser under the CAP code rules. The ASA investigated Seagate under rule 8.2, which states that competitions must be conducted equitably and the promoter must deal fairly with all participants and 8.27 which states that withholding prizes is only justified if participants have not met qualifying criteria set out clearly in the rules of the promotion. They also investigated the advertiser under rules 8.1, 8.17.1 and 8.23.
Repeated Session IDs
Only two of the complainants agreed to be identified to the advertiser. In response to the first complainant, Seagate explained that their game server repeatedly received the same session identification (ID) over extended periods of time. Session IDs are often used to identify a user that has logged into a website. A session ID will normally be granted on a visitor’s first visit to the site, tracking this one user’s activity through the site. Session IDs are created when a browser is started and will refresh when left idle. However, they are not the same as a customer accounts, once a session ends, the visitor does not regain the same Session ID if they log on again. Session IDs can be hijacked to obtain potential privileges.
The complainant was using the same Session ID over several days, using a previous Session ID when actually playing under a new Session ID. Therefore, Seagate argued, this was not compatible with the game mechanics as stated in the competition’s terms and conditions. Seagate was able to provide the game data showing this manipulation of the game’s mechanics.
The ASA did not uphold the first complaint, basing their decision on Seagate’s data evidence showing the player’s use of repeated session IDs. The competition’s terms and conditions clearly stated that Seagate could block a player from the competition if they modified or changed the game application. Seagate had, therefore, not committed any breach of the CAP Code by preventing this player from participating or winning.
Software that alters the game application mechanics
The ASA came to the same conclusion in relation to the second complaint. The game data in relation to this player showed the same pattern of answer choices given within the same time sequence, indicating the presence of external software that mimicked mouse movements. Again, this breached the terms and conditions of the game, which stated that a player would be blocked for using “any software or hardware that would alter the game application mechanics”.
Finally, the ASA found that the competition had been administered fairly because Seagate’s documentary evidence supported their arguments for blocking the players.
Why this matters:
The adjudication shows the importance of clear and comprehensive terms and conditions in a prize promotion which spell out the circumstances in which participants may be excluded.
However one question is not answered by the ASA’s decision. That relates to whether a mechanic like this, involving playing a game against other participants for a chance to win a prize, gives rise to any risk of “gaming” under the Gambling Act 2005. If that were the case, then without a licence from the Gambling Commission unpleasant consequences could follow.
However there will not be “gaming” as defined by the 2005 Act if the winner is determined 100% by skill. Presumably this was the position in this case.