Let me start with a story, a true story. I hosted a table at the last Affiliate Summit’s Meet Market. Meet Markets are networking events held for the purpose of affiliates, merchants, affiliate networks, outsourced affiliate program managers, and other agencies to “meet-and-greet” each other during the first day of the conference. At one point a lady (with a tag “Affiliate” on her badge) stopped by my table, stretched out her hand to grab one of the giveaway items I had laying on the table, then raised her eyes to my badge — which simply read: Geno Prussakov, President, AM Navigator — dropped the giveaway item, said: “We’re ShopAtHome — you don’t like us!” and left… Once the Meet Market ended, I went up to my hotel room, and searched both my own blog, and ABestWeb for any posts that I might have made about ShopAtHome, as I wasn’t sure I’ve actually made any. I was correct. Not a single post that would specifically point at them, or explicitly state that I “don’t like” ShopAtHome.com. Then I did a bit more thinking, and remembered that back in December of 2006 when I was finishing “A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing” I did write a brief section on “spyware operators” and among others did mention ShopAtHomeSelect (cf: pp. 98-99). I also quoted Wikipedia’s summary of how spyware works, which back then read:
Spyware which attacks affiliate networks does so by placing the spyware operator’s affiliate tag on the user’s activity””replacing any other tag, if there is one. This harms just about everyone involved in the transaction other than the spyware operator. The user is harmed by having their choices thwarted. A legitimate affiliate is harmed by having their earned income redirected to the spyware operator. Affiliate marketing networks are harmed by the degradation of their reputation. Vendors are harmed by having to pay out affiliate revenues to an “affiliate” who did not earn them through a contractual agreement.
Educate yourself further: read more about how ShopAtHome fits into this picture (and what hurt they are bringing about) on the “Debunking ShopAtHomeSelect” page by Ben Edelman
Aha! So they’ve read my book (or at least got to those two pages where I warned affiliate managers about spyware)! Moreover, there is another important conclusion to be made from the above-quoted story: they have nothing to counter my statement with, apart from stating: “We’re ShopAtHome — you don’t like us.” They are not denying the fact that they are the spyware that hurts the affiliate marketing industry, and neither are they doing anything to stop being one.
But wait, it gets even more interesting!
Back in 2005 ShopAtHomeSelect was removed from Commission Junction “for violation of the publisher service agreement and the Publisher Code of Conduct.” [source] But yesterday, my friend Elena, who is an affiliate and is concerned about these issues, reminded us that this very ShopAtHome that is known for “automatically overwriting affiliate clicks,” runs an affiliate program where they pay affiliates $2.10 (per download) to distribute their toolbar. The said affiliate program is run through the LinkShare affiliate network. [details]
So, a spyware that forces clicks which overwrite other affiliates’ cookies runs an affiliate program for these very affiliates to distribute the guillotine. WOW.
Now, besides pointing out to this strange (to say the least) “affiliate program” Elena asks a very important question: “How come so many merchants are OK with what they do?” redOrbit states that there are “more than 1,500 leading retailers” featured by ShopAtHome! [source] The list of these retailers includes all of the Top 10 Online Retailers by Conversion Rate (Dec 2008 data) and many more famous brands! The quick answer to the question of why these merchants are not doing anything against it is ignorance. Yes, regardless of how large the brand may be, the people at the helm of their affiliate program management are often lacking basic education on the subject of spyware and parasites, and the negative repercussions that this parasitism has for their affliate programs in particular, as well as for the affiliate marketing industry in general.
The purpose of this post is to once again draw the attention of affiliates, affiliate program managers and merchants to the one of the main problems of the present-day affiliate marketing – adware (also known as parasiteware). If you are reading this post, and you do not know what it is, how it works, or how it hurts your business, you are an easy prey for such parasitic affiliates as ShopAtHome, Claria, Ebates, Zango, TopMoxie, Dollar Revenue, Targetsaver, WhenU, and others.
Here’s a list of good free resources where you can start educating yourself on the subject:
- “Understanding How Affiliates Use Adware“
- Publications by Ben Edelman
- ParasiteWare Forum at ABestWeb
Should you have any specific questions, please do not hesitate to post them in the “Comments” area below. It is an extremely important issue, and I strongly encourage you to start learning about it (and taking a stand against it) today.