Before I post this I would like to mention that I am not a Lawyer and cannot give legal advice. I am also not able to determine what is or is not legal since I am not a Lawyer but what I can do is give my opinion.
So this morning a bunch of people have been going crazy and acting like the people who have “hacked Twitter or found a programming flaw” “Another Twitter Hacking Report on Mashable” are anything new. The reality is that I don’t see what the big deal is and how people have all of the sudden discovered something new when in reality this same type of behavior has existed for years. Intelligent companies, Affiliate Managers and forums like Abestweb or companies like Affiliate Fair Play have been warning against this type of behavior which usually exists from Adware Applications. I don’t see how it is any different than what I consider to be unethical Affiliates or what Media Companies pitch as a good thing and name Contextual, PPV, Interstitial, Pop Ups, Slides, Reminderware, Couponware, Loyaltyware, etc…. or in other words fancy names for adware that target a website’s url or target specific keywords and phrases on that site then activate. When the application recognizes these urls or phrases it looks through who is advertising or bidding on these and can react in a number of ways.
It can redirect a link and set a tracking cookie by forcing a click. It can pop an add over a site. It can force your browser to open a new tab and display a new webpage and it can also start flashing or blinking and offer coupon codes taking the person off your site and giving credit to a third party channel that didn’t do a thing to bring the person to your site. There are a number of ways that these nasty applications can have the ability to be able to take credit for sales that they didn’t earn or can redirect your traffic away from your site. Because we have seen this type of behavior with pop ups or a new tabs and screens for years, I don’t see why everyone is going crazy over this. Don’t you think it was bound to happen that someone would eventually start targeting the url Twitter.com for pop ups to sell impressions or drive traffic? Adware companies pop ads over websites without paying the webmaster all the time, that is how they generate their impressions and sales. I don’t think it is right and I also think it is unethical. People have known about this for years so why all of the sudden is it different because it is on twitter? Is it an actual hack? If so, could this bring the FTC into the adware game and will the PPV, Contextual, Interstitial, etc… companies take another hit? This also leads me into another conversation I had yesterday and a few days ago as well.
I was talking to an Affiliate on the phone and much like a few others they asked if they can place a pixel on my Client’s site and in their shopping cart. The reason they gave me was that they want to be able to better track their sales from their end. It sounds harmless right? Think again. This could have some serious potential issues for you and your company. The first questions you should ask yourself are:
Are they their own Affiliate Network? Should you allow Affiliate Networks in through your Affiliate Program or even launch on multiple networks to begin with? What is the actual value add by being on multiple networks? Numbers is not an actual value add or benefit in the Affiliate industry.
The thing is that most of the Affiliates who ask you to place a pixel on your site have their own CPA or Affiliate Networks and internal programs. Although that may not sound bad at first, lets think about what this could mean for you and your company. Will they give you access to approve in the Affiliates in their Network so you can see them all? Is one of your selling points being stable and exclusive on one network? If you don’t have access to see who is promoting you and where they are from and your company does not work with NY Affiliates because of tax issues. Could you now be at risk since you do not know who in their Network now has your offers and where they are from? Do they have the same standards as you do with people using adware and are they as dilligent as you are with testing for it? Can you see info regarding last referring url to check and see if the sites you are on match your companies guidelines as far as content and graphics? What about the FTC guidelines on Review Sites and Blogs? How about Affiliates that are already partnered with you and they convince them to join through their program now? Could those same Affiliates now set two cookies, steal from a two tier commission or just flat out rip you off? There are a ton of things that can go wrong. I would like to point out real quick that this is different than Adwords tracking code. This is an actual pixel that can fire and it is there so that they can tell which Affiliates are generating clicks and sales… you’re basically opening a second network and one that may give you no exposure into what they are doing.
1. Will they give you access to approve in the Affiliates in their Network so you can see them all?
Not every Network has the same strict approval processes as you do. What happens if you reject an Affiliate and they let them in? If you don’t have access to their Affiliates or who is promoting you then the people you did not want to partner with may now have access to your offers.
2. Is one of your selling points being stable and exclusive on one network?
Merchants that launch on every network, even sometimes that just launch on 2 networks are clearly unstable and do not understand how Affiliate Marketing works. It is the job of your Affiliate Manager to get the Affiliates you need into your program. Every Affiliate can get into each Network if they follow that Networks guidelines (with the exception being Google since not everyone can have an Adsense Account or Share a Sale and Buy.at because they don’t let well known and active in their network Adware applications in (With that said they cannot catch everything but they do do a good job with trying to catch as much as they can)). What is important to remember is that you should sign up for a Network based on program goals and not on the number of Affiliates. If you do not want adware or toolbars or bhos and the Affiliate is well known but not on Share a Sale or Buy.at, chances are you shouldn’t be partnering with them. The same thing goes for your Affiliate Manager or Outsources Program Management company.
You hire an Affiliate Manager or OPM firm to manage the program because their job is to bring those Affiliates into your program and onto the Network you are on for you. If the Affiliate is not allowed in Share a Sale or Buy.at but are allowed on the other big networks, there is probably a good reason for why they are allowed on other Networks but not Share a Sale and Buy.at and you should then ask yourself again if they meet your goals or if they use Unethical Methods to generate sales. You need to remember that the Affiliates you will want to work with because they don’t use Adware will be on Share a Sale or Buy.at. If your AM or OPM cannot bring them on or they recommend you open up somewhere else so you can partner with them, you should reconsider their employment with you as they may not have your best interest in mind. There are a million reasons why you do not need or should not launch on multiple networks from double dipping to more but that is another post.
3. If you don’t have access to see who is promoting you and where they are from and your company does not work with NY Affiliates because of tax issues. Could you now be at risk since you do not know who in their Network now has your offers and where they are from?
Now this is one of those things where you need to talk to an actual Lawyer. The thought behind it is that if you cannot see who signs up and where they live and if the Network does not have reports on how many sales certain Affiliates generated from which states, then they may be violating your own companies terms and conditions with regards to State Tax Laws. You should also ask yourself and talk to your legal team about if you are now back to the issue with collecting state taxes. If you don’t work with NY Affiliates for example and you remove them all and those Affiliates are in the Network that signs up as an Affiliate, how can you be certain and how can you prove to the tax people that you did in fact do your best to control the state tax issue if you don’t even know who has your offers and they won’t let you log in to see?
4. Do they have the same standards as you do with people using adware and are they as dilligent?
Does this “Affiliate” who is actually an Affiliate Network or whose site has an Affiliate program and will be giving your offer out to their Affiliates have the same adware controls as you do? Do they encourage or allow Contextual, PPV, Loyaltyware, Couponware, Reminderware, etc… in and what will they do to enforce your policies? Won’t this create double the work for you now? This is especially bad if you have ads popping over other sites and don’t know who is doing it and another company decides to sue you for interfering with their customers. How can you stop it and how can you show you were even remotely proactive about preventing it when you don’t even get to review each Affiliate, communicate with each Affiliate and approve or reject each Affiliate. Furthermore, why couldn’t you just bring that Affiliate onto your main Network in the first place.
5. Can you see info regarding the last referring url to check and see if the sites you are on match your companies guidelines as far as content and graphics?
The next issue is if they open the offer to their network, all of the sudden sites that the new network may have deemed ok which could be discriminatory or have offensive graphics and words may now have access to your brand and your companies products. If you find this and want to take action, instead of having access to each partner who was in your program through your original network you have to 1. find their Affiliate ID 2. keep track of their site 3. Get in contact with the “Affiliate” who is actually a Network and get them to be proactive and 4. understand that you lost control over your brand and potential customers may see your products and logos next to porn or hate messages. Instead of just looking through your internal program you now have to scour the web to see where your banners are and where your brand and your images are being displayed and wait for other people to be proactive to get other people to be proactive. You may have now lost control over your brand to try and make a couple of quick dollars. This on its own is an almost full time job.
6. What about the FTC guidelines on Review Sites and Blogs?
This is another question to talk to your legal department about. Because the review and advertising disclosure guidelines are still fairly new it is important to ask your legal team to figure out the best policy with how to work with Affiliates who do reviews or have reviews on their sites. If you now have a second, third or fourth and fifth network and some of those are posing as an Affiliate who needs to or wants to place a pixel on your site, do you know how many review sites have your products and how many of them actually have an FTC advertising disclosure on their sites? How can you also honestly say and prove that you did your job to review and look for them or enforce your policy with FTC advertising disclosures?
7. How about Affiliates that are already partnered with you and they convince to join through their program now? Could those same Affiliates now set two cookies, steal from a two tier commission by signing up for a second account and get credited twice for the same sale or just flat out rip you off without being tricky?
What happens if you have an Affiliate in your current program and your boss loves them and asks for updates on their performance. All of the sudden the new “Affiliate” recruits them because they have a better landing page or something and they now leave your current program. A lot of times these “Affiliates” which are really networks also convince you to give higher commissions or payouts to them and they may end up now offering more money to those partners who have left you so now you have to spend more to make the same sales. You’re now actually operating at a loss since you are paying more for the same sales and traffic. The other issue is that these same Affiliates could set two cookies and send the same visitor to your site and get two payouts. If you allow other pixels on your site or other Networks to have your company as a Client or your offers, you have to have custom programming built to not only address this issue but a number of others.
When an Affiliate asks you to place a Pixel on your site, find out the real reason. Better tracking for them on their end is not an answer. Them having an Affiliate Network or wanting to work their adware magic is more than likely the real reason and something you need to be careful of. I do understand Adwords tracking code because they want to optimize their general search campaigns and need to know what keywords convert and what do not convert but for a pixel, I always say no.