HighTechDad’s Reasons for Canceling the HP TouchSmart Giveaway

In Consumer Electronics, General, Giveaway by Michael Sheehan5 Comments

This is a copy of my original post that appeared on Blogspot while my site was undergoing a Denial of Service (DDoS) and botnet attack. The original post appears here.

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TITLE: NULL & VOID: Statement and Winner Announcement from HighTechDad on HP TouchSmart Giveaway

UPDATED #2 @12:20pm (Pacific): I made a huge mistake here. Popular Vote giveaways tend to not be legitimate and I realize now that I should never have made that part of this giveaway. Voting like on American Idol or some of the Gap Kids contest always are at the mercy of those who understand how to get around things (e.g., autodialers, scripts, whatever). Shame on me for thinking that this giveaway would be different.

As numerous things have happened during this giveaway, many of which I have documented in this post and elsewhere, I realize that this giveaway has truly become INVALID. I have been threatened with legal action (I have no team of high-powered lawyers on my side), my site has been crippled by someone maliciously (and I’m not blaming anyone), voting was disrupted for one reason or another during the timing (that alone makes the whole thing invalid anyway), I have lost time and money dealing with this, people seem to not only dislike each other but me as well for making decisions that I thought were sound and the general spirit of the Holidays which was the WHOLE IDEA has been lost here. It is very upsetting to me and my family. HighTechDad.com is a hobby, a passion and something that I do in my limited free time. My brand has been tarnished by this and I need to simply end this controversy.

Due to this, I am forced to make an extremely difficult decision here of which many will be upset but I hope that we can all be adults about this and understand my reasoning behind my decision.

I will be telling HP and their PR firm that this giveaway is invalid. Do note, this is my decision, and if you want to hate me for it, I guess that is your prerogative.

I personally apologize to everyone who entered, voted and promoted this giveaway. I know it was a lot of work and your efforts should be applauded. However, and I don’t want to be wishy washy about this, this decision is final. I have also decided NOT to do any similar giveaways on my site in the future. It is not worth my time or effort to be “generous” in this way.

I guess the old saying “One Bad Apple Spoils the Bunch” holds true here and I’m sorry it had to end this way.

Do note, there are other giveaways of this nature on other blogs out there so I encourage you to enter them. I, however, will not be part of them anymore.

UPDATED @10:04am (Pacific): Given that I am a person of honesty and integrity, I need to put a hold on this announcement. The DDoS attack on my site stopped the minute that I announced the winner. I now have access (somewhat) to my server and the logs as well as some other information that has been uncovered due to some more research. I must say that I am extremely disheartened by all of this and verging on anger. The fact that suddenly my site is available minutes after the announcement and some of the other items leads me to believe that this giveaway has become invalid. I still believe in the entrants that I selected for voting, however, the fact that people COULD NOT vote during the period makes the whole giveaway invalid in my opinion.

Therefore, I have a couple of options available.
1: Run a lightening vote on a 3rd party site with the same contestants,
2: cancel this all together or
3: donate this HP to a charity.

Please log a comment about these choices on this post. I’m sorry that it has come to this but I believe that this is the most FAIR option available to me. And trust me, I will NOT be doing these again in the future.

To say that this was an exciting giveaway would be understating things dramatically. As of this writing, my site is under a heavy botnet/Denial of Service (DDoS) attack and will not respond. Therefore, I have had to post this on a different site just so that I could get the word out about this Giveaway.

For starters, I want to once again thank HP for providing the computer (an HP TouchSmart 600) for this giveaway. I guess it truly got people’s attention.

Second, I want to thank ALL of the people who entered the giveaways. I thought that each and every entry was creative, some were actually quite good! I tried to make this as fair as possible by having people enter, then selecting the top 10 entries (my opinion and the HP PR firm’s) and then opening things up to public voting (which I thought would be fair as well).

From Good to Bad and now to REALLY UGLY!

But this is where my happiness ended unfortunately. Perhaps this is due to the my own design of the giveaway. Popular vote giveaways are notoriously dangerous and can get out of hand from what I understand. Lesson learned. However, I did, as part of the giveaway, encourage users to promote it with their friends, family and co-workers. I saw some very creative methods being used, from people posting on forums or Craigslist to videos talking about the giveaway, many tweets and bog posts about it. I truly felt that things were going really well on the first day of voting.

Then things started to turn bad. As with any giveaway similar to this (with voting), those who are not winning start to complain or voice concerns about something being unfair or improper. As I wanted to keep things fair and fun, I reviewed some log files from the voting and started to see some discrepancies. Also, someone anonymously pointed me to a script that showed how to artificially enhance votes using the WordPress plugin that I was using. After analyzing the script (with the help of a developer), I stripped out the votes that were obviously the result of that script. Over 2000 votes were removed.

From bad, things started to get even worse. I started getting emails and tweets from every entrant, each claiming that something was not right or someone was cheating or whatever. I was fielding these emails regularly to the best of my ability. Then, my site started timing out and lagging and within a few minutes, I received a notice from my hosting provider, BlueHost (who has been very supportive and understanding), that they were suspending my account. I was able to persuade them to allow me to take a database dump and all of the files off of the server and started a frantic process of moving it over to the company where I work, GoGrid (Cloud Hosting). I actually had the new site up within an hour (pretty much record time), but there was a new issue.

My domain (in general) was being flooded with thousands of request per minute and as of this writing, this continues. Unfortunately, someone decided it would be “fun” to bomb my server with requests, thus bringing it to its knees. I have had the help of a few great people who have been trying to get my site up as well as implement some security protocols but unfortunately, as is the nature of these types of attacks, it is not having much effect. So, I am left at the mercy of the attacker(s) to hope that they will be kind enough to concentrate their efforts elsewhere and allow me to restore service and site.

Thoughts Behind the Voting and Winner Selection

My intentions for the giveaway were good. Obviously people during this economy are struggling and I thought that the concept behind this was sound. Obviously I was wrong. It is sad actually, that someone decides to be somewhat malicious with this as it hurts everybody involved. It also makes me seriously reconsider doing giveaways like this in the future.

Regardless, I still have the issue of the final vote counts and the announcement of a winner. While I was tempted to simply cancel the entire giveaway and tell HP to keep the prize, I feel that it is important to follow through with my word. I asked people to promote the giveaway as well as the voting. And while I know that a lot of people put in a ton of effort (including me), I don’t think that I am justified in simply canceling the giveaway.

Also, I don’t think that I can hold the entrants accountable for actions that someone did without their knowledge. I don’t have the time nor means to audit each and every vote. I did take actions on something that I perceived was unfair but even after that, it seems that there was a winner who was able to rally a community or group of communities. I know that other entrants were doing that as well…it could have been anybody in this position.

I know that my announcement of the winner will displease a few, but I need to make a final decision. This is the nature of these types of giveaways: there are winners who are happy and there are losers who are not. The funny thing is, it is not like I’m giving away a car or something of extremely high value. This HP TouchSmart 600 is only valued at around $1400. I know that I alone have spent at least that much in setting up, creating and managing the giveaway, plus now all of the added time trying to move to a new hosting provider as well as mitigate this DDoS attack.

The Winner

So, I’m announcing that the winner of this (crazy) giveaway is: Bryan Simon

My Reasoning

Bryan was the first to post a YouTube video of his song. He also did (creatively) get quite a community to rally around his voting. While there may have been some people within or outside of that community who decided to take matters into their own hands and create this headache for me (and others), I don’t believe that Bryan would be malicious in that nature. He has numerous followers on YouTube and creatively marketed his entry & voting promotion around that and using other methods. Even after removing several thousand votes from his count, he was still the overall leader throughout the majority of the giveaway. Honestly, this could have been anyone.

I realize that others may be upset about this decision but please understand that a decision has to be made and sometimes it is difficult to make and hear. I should know this as I too participated in a “voting” type of contest for the Panasonic Living in HD Insider program. Someone else crushed the competitors and I finished in the middle of the pack despite my best efforts.

Runner Up Prize

As all of these issues were going on, I was also negotiating with the PR firm for HP about giving some type of a runner up prize. (If I had the funds to do so, I would have offered something myself.) Through a little back and forth, I was able to get a $100 Gift Card from HP which is good towards the purchase of a new HP Computer. While I had hoped to give something more, this is better than nothing. As I currently do not have access to the votes because I simply cannot get on the server, once I figure out who had the second highest number of votes, that entrant will be awarded that prize.

Summary and Plea for Help

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So, while I am glad that this giveaway is over, I still have to deal with the ongoing issues that it brought to my blog. I am hoping that all of the entrants can be sure to let their followers know that this has caused quite a bit of issues for me. This BotNet/DDoS attack really needs to be stopped as it is not fair to me or my readers, especially since it is only my goal to provide good content.

The Giveaway was created with best intentions and I think that all who entered believed that as well. It’s too bad than a 3rd party decided to do what they are doing. Please help me stop this so that I can get back to my daily routine.

Sincerely,

HighTechDad