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10 Companies That Accidentally Gave Away Their Products

by Kyle D
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Nothing in life is free, and if you’re getting something for nothing, then it’s likely that someone somewhere is getting royally screwed over because of it. In today’s world, where a majority of all sales, purchases, and belongings are in some way, shape, or form digital, something as small as a line of misplaced code can wreak financial havoc on a company. Here are 10 examples of a company totally dropping the ball in some way or another.

10 Sony Practically Gives The Interview To Pirates

The Interview

Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

As you’re probably aware, The Interview caused quite a few problems for Sony shortly before the film’s release. The company was dealt a major blow when hackers managed to steal multiple unreleased films from their servers and threatened to release them online if Sony didn’t pull The Interview from theaters. When Sony refused to give in, threats of attacks were made against any theater that dared to show the movie. With the risk of physical violence toward theater patrons now looming overhead, Sony decided that the safe thing to do was to pull the movie from theaters, much to the dismay of patriotic moviegoers all over the country.

To everyone’s surprise, however, Sony proceeded to release The Interview for rental online through a digital download service called The Kernel. The only problem was that after renting the movie from Kernel, consumers could then download the full movie for free and keep it forever. Not only could people keep the movie that they rented, but they could also share the Kernel link, and anyone else who used it could also download the movie for free with no strings attached.

9 Amazon’s Automatic Pricing Goes Haywire

Amazon Deals
About once every month or so, Amazon will clearance out certain used and returned items that haven’t resold as quickly as the warehouse giant had hoped. Due to the large amount of items in Amazon’s catalog, the prices for these items are set automatically by a computer and get rolled out all at the same time, which leads to a feeding frenzy of people rushing around, trying to find the best deals before everything goes out of stock. While these clearance prices are better than average, they can’t beat Amazon’s pricing error in 2011.

Without warning, the prices of video games in Amazon’s electronics department took a sharp nose dive. In the blink of an eye, prices went from $40 to a single cent. You’re reading that correctly—one penny for a brand new video game. As with most online errors of this magnitude, you might expect that any orders made for one-cent games would be canceled. Amazon’s Prime shipping service made that difficult, however. People could order one-cent games and have them ship out immediately thanks to their free two-day shipping. While Amazon did cancel some orders, there’s no telling how many thousands of games managed to get delivered.

8 One Man Gets All Of The Airline Rewards

Most credit card rewards programs are virtually worthless, as they require you to spend thousands of dollars before you ever see anything even slightly worthwhile happen with your account. Since dropping $5,000 for a $30 Arby’s gift card isn’t exactly newsworthy, you aren’t likely to see many stories about someone doing something extreme with their rewards purchases. There is an exception to the rule, however, and his name is Brad Wilson.

With a plan so devastatingly simple that literally anyone could do it, Mr. Wilson used a government program to buy US-minted $1 coins with his credit card, which he then fed back into his bank account and used to pay off his credit card debts. It was like the circle of life, but instead of becoming the Lion King, Wilson became the king of airplanes, using his massive amount of rewards points to redeem over four million free airline miles for himself and his wife. This also secured their elite status with American Airlines, which earned them even more free stuff. Sadly, the government program was ended when it became apparent that they’d goofed up with their attempt at getting people to use more coins.

7 Sega Releases Console With Weakest Piracy Protection Ever

Sega Dreamcast

Photo credit: Evan Amos

The Sega Dreamcast hit the market in the US in 1999, and with it came a new type of CD. Known as GD-ROM, this new type of storage could hold a whopping gigabyte of data on each disc, almost double the amount of data that could be put onto a CD. These new disc types were Sega’s main defense against piracy, as you couldn’t buy blank GD-ROMs in stores, and the Sega Dreamcast was built to only accept GD-ROMs as a game disc. Unfortunately, Sega left a huge hole in their piracy protection.

You see, the Dreamcast also had a special brand of music CDs that it could play, called Mil-CDs. These special CDs had access to all sorts of special features like improved navigation menus and things like video playback. Immediately after the release of the Dreamcast, hackers found that they could completely bypass the need for GD-ROMs and force the console to play regular CDs as if they were Mil-CDs. This meant that every Dreamcast could play pirated software directly out of the box without any need for hacking or altering the system. Sega attempted to fix this in future versions of the Dreamcast, but the damage was done. There were millions of consoles, all capable of playing free games, out on the market. Sega withdrew from the console business barely two years later.

6 Walmart Gets Ready For The Holidays By Tanking Prices

As it gets closer to the holiday season, online stores will inevitably begin preparing for their big end-of-the-year sales. It’s definitely in a store’s best interest to be ready for events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Businesses like Walmart stand to gain billions of dollars during these weeks of shopping mania, and they can’t risk missing it. When you’re doing so much to prepare for the shopping season, anything can go wrong in a hurry, and in 2013, Walmart faced a doomsday scenario.

Due to an error in their website’s code, prices on products all over their stores started dropping to impossible lows. HDTVs dropped to $10, and projectors that ran more than $500 could be bought for the price of a coffee at Starbucks. It was generally chaos for the brand, as these prices were available at every store in the country. Thanks to Walmart’s pick-up-at-store policy, customers were able to buy their products and pick them up within minutes, before cancellations could happen. To add to the hilarity, Walmart then went and gave everyone $10 gift cards to apologize for canceling so many orders. These gift cards were also sent to the people who were able to get their orders processed.

5 Zavvi Gives Away Free Gaming Consoles And Threatens Legal Action

Angry Businessman
In 2013, a game known as Tearaway was released for the PlayStation Vita at a price point of $40. People who lived in the UK and did not own a PlayStation Vita had the option of purchasing the game bundled with a brand-new Vita for £190, which was a pretty good deal. At some point, British retailer Zavvi got their wires crossed, and they ended up sending out the £190 bundle to people who had merely ordered the £20 game. Customers were getting a free Vita with their purchase. Zavvi didn’t like that at all.

When a company makes a mistake like this, it isn’t uncommon for them to simply cut their losses and use the mistake as good PR. Zavvi apparently didn’t get this memo and decided to double down on their mistake by sending out letters to their customers threatening them with litigation if they didn’t send back the products that Zavvi had given them. There have been arguments online over whether or not anyone would have to give the products back due to the fact that the Vitas may or may not be considered unsolicited goods, which would be legally considered a gift. As of this writing, there has been no word on whether Zavvi actually followed through with their threats or if all of their customers just gave the products back.

4 JC Penney Gives Out Coupon For 100 Percent Off

Too Many Towels
Everybody loves saving money, which means that generally everyone loves coupons. Some people love coupons a little too much, however, and have actively made fake ones that get them 100 percent off their purchase. Then, they can steal products from stores without needing to rush out the door like a maniac while fighting off security.

While a real 100-percent coupon sounds far-fetched, it has happened before. One such occasion was when JC Penney released a coupon online for $10 off a purchase that cost $10 or more. As you all should know, $10 minus $10 is $0. You can’t exactly break the bank with a spending limit of $10, but JC Penney didn’t put a limit on the number of coupons used, allowing people to order endless amounts of $10 items for free. JC Penney quickly ran out of stock on all items that cost less than $10 before they managed to kill the coupon for good. Free towel, anyone?

3 Electronic Arts Gives Away A Library Of Games

Within recent years, it has become the norm for companies to release their own online services as competition to the big dogs on the market. Where there was once only Netflix, you now have HBO GO, Hulu, Crackle, FX, and a multitude of other streaming services all fighting for your money. Where there was once only Steam for PC gamers, there are now services like GoG and Origin looking to get a piece of the pie with their own exclusive gaming platforms on PC. When Electronic Arts (winner of the Consumerist Golden Poo award two years in a row) began their Origin service, not many people took a liking to it merely because of the stigma of EA’s name being attached to it.

Things were tough in the beginning for EA, and they needed to find a way to get feedback on their product. They did this by allowing users to take surveys, and as a “thank you,” gave them a $20 gift code to use on their new online store. The mistake they made was that the $20 gift wasn’t unique and could be used by anyone multiple times. This allowed anyone, even people who didn’t use the service, to get every game on the company’s catalog that was priced $20 or lower for free. EA announced that they would honor all purchases and let bygones be bygones, all while netting a large amount of new users, who flooded their service to get free games.

2 T-Mobile Gives Away Free Yearlong Contracts In Error

Phone Use
Phone contracts and minute plans are outrageously overpriced. If only there was a company out there that gave away free contracts and didn’t worry about little things like getting paid for their services . . . Well, T-Mobile did just such a thing in 2011. The company put up an offer on their website that was supposed to be for a 12-month contract that offered texting and 300 minutes for £10.21 a month, with the first month being free. For some reason, the offer on the page listed it as a 12-month contract with the first 12 months being free.

Obviously, that couldn’t be correct and must have just been a typo in the ad, but anyone who actually did sign up found that the offer really was for 12 free months of service. Of course, T-Mobile was quick to pull the advertisement and send out an alert saying that they wouldn’t honor the offer, but after outrage from customers and the media, T-Mobile agreed to give the free contract to anyone that had originally signed up for them. In total, about 2,000 people got the deal before it was pulled.

1 Sony Offers 14-Day Trial But Gives Out Lifetime Memberships Instead

Lifetime Gamers
Usually the phrases “14-day trial” and “lasts a lifetime” don’t really go together, unless you’re expecting to kick off of this mortal coil in the next fortnight. It was a different story in February 2014 with Sony’s PlayStation Plus service. Originally planned as a bonus service for gamers to get an assortment of free games each month, the program was updated with the release of the PlayStation 4, becoming mandatory in order to play games online.

To get people interested in the service on their new console, Sony released a special offer on their online store for the first 14 days free, with automatic billing after the two weeks expired. The only requirement was that a credit card be attached to an account so they could start billing when the trial ended.

This is where the hook comes in. Once users put their credit card information in, the store would give them an option to choose which kind of service they wanted after their 14 days were up. Customers could choose between one year, three months, or another free 14 days. Guess which one wasn’t supposed to be there. Users could just keep clicking the free option over and over, gaining decades of free service in the process.

While I have nothing to advertise at the moment, I hope to hawk my wares out to you some day. Until then, I can be contacted at [email protected]. Why would you need to contact me? I don’t know.

fact checked by Jamie Frater