In the summer of 2003, I launched the Consumer Defense Resource Group, with a mission of public interest consumer advocacy. It was in response to what I felt was a misleading advertising campaign by Apple.
On 28 April 2003, Apple launched their iTunes Music Store with a global advertising campaign promising downloadable songs for 99 cents each. I began downloading songs from the new store to get the higher quality music, album artwork, and other benefits. I encouraged friends to use the store as a way to support Apple, the music industry, and the artists.
On a summer day in 2003, I’d been downloading songs, and stumbled on something unusual. Among the thousands of songs, there was one that couldn’t be purchased for 99 cents. To get that song, it would cost $10 — the price of the entire album. That song was American Pie by Don McLean. For albums containing a single popular hit song, it seemed Apple was going to make consumers purchase the entire album to get that one song.
There was something poignant to me about about the advertised 99 cent per song price not being honored for that particular song. If our favorite songs were going to be priced at $10 each, it might indeed be the day the music died.
That summer, I had many email exchanges and phone calls with Kevin Saul, one of Apple’s in-house attorneys, who subsequently was in the media spotlight during the 2013 USA v Apple case. Kevin was a great guy to work with, and a challenging but enjoyable opponent when it came to discussions of law. I’ve written Kevin since then. He’s still at Apple.
That summer was important to me because it was the first of many victories. Kevin agreed to have Apple reduce the price of the American Pie from $10 to 99 cents. Today the enhanced version is $1.29 under their newer pricing plan. It’s a small victory, and a quiet one that didn’t get any publicity, but it meant a lot to me.
Over the past 13 years, I’ve had many other successes.
Rather than taking an adversarial approach to consumer defense, I take a mediator approach by trying to discover win-win solutions. They aren’t always readily apparent. In part, my philosophy has been inspired by this quote from Chief Justice Burger:
“The notion that most people want black-robed judges, well-dressed lawyers, and fine paneled courtrooms as the setting to resolve their dispute is not correct. People with problems, like people with pains, want relief, and they want it as quickly and inexpensively as possible.” – Warren E. Burger former Chief Justice United States Supreme Court
My unique approach to consumer advocacy involves working with businesses rather than against them. Often the work I do is proactive and preventative. Using early warning detection systems, I’m able to stop consumer complaints and lawsuits before they happen through identifying underlying weaknesses in an organization or business.
A scalable proportional response ensures positive fair outcomes with the least amount of loss by all parties involved.
Over the past 13 years, there have only been a few situations I felt I needed to simply walk away from because those engaged in unscrupulous practices seemed intent on making my life very unpleasant, and there seemed to be no accessible mechanism for meaningful change. The worst experience I ever had was when some people tried to make my life miserable and then went after someone else I know intent on making their life miserable. These are examples of when it’s important to choose your battles wisely. Those were few low points in what has otherwise been a rewarding and worthwhile endeavor.
I’m looking forward to many more years of successes ahead. I’m grateful to everyone who has been supportive of me and my work along the way.