On Friday, June 11, checking the outgoing links in my blog, I’ve noticed something extremely bothersome. All of the direct links in my blog have suddenly started going through in-between viglink.com URL. So, for example, when someone clicked the Buy my books link on in my blog’s sidebar, they’d have the following going on between my blog and landing on Amazon’s page:
Knowing that VigLink was a tool for monetizing blogs through affiliate links [more here], and an affiliate themselves, got me really concerned. I thought my blog was hacked, and all direct links got switched to “viglinks” (read: someone’s earning money on my content). It turns out I was not the only one who got perplexed (more below).
Immediately I emailed Kellie Stevens of AffiliateFairPlay asking her opinion on what was going on.
I wasn’t entirely sure if the api.viglink.com URLs were setting the Amazon’s cookie (necessary for the affiliate commission to be credited to someone’s account), and Kellie’s reply was somewhat comforting. Having discovered that it was the Lijit’s Wijit (or the search widget) that the activity originated from, she also wrote:
We then both did a bit more research into it. I was looking to see if Lijit has recently gotten into some kind of partnership with VigLink, and whether they have posted some kind of note about this in my Lijit account; while Kellie was doing her own digging and research. In the process of her research she found an interesting reference to something similar happening between VigLink and Posterous [see this post, as well as this coverage]. This wasn’t a good precedent for me to become aware of, and we kept digging. I didn’t find any mention of anything about any kind of partnership between Lijit and VigLink, and neither have I received any emails regarding this.
Finally, Kellie discovered the Lijit’s announcement on the topic, posted in their blog on June 10. The announcement read that to help it’s users “better understand” blog readers’ journeys past their clicks on the external links they:
…have partnered with Viglink to provide you with this data right inside your Lijit stats dashboard. They are providing Lijit publishers with this valuable information and offering an interesting opportunity as well. As a publisher , you can register with Viglink to help monetize any affiliate links you may have on your site. They do all of the heavy lifting , and you get an easy way to manage affiliate links and help monetize your existing affiliate traffic.
All of this is great, but I have a huge problem with this switch, and the whole way it was handled. There are three things in particular that must be pointed out here:
1) It was not announced to Lijit’s users directly — C’mon, Lijit, you’re emailing me my weekly stats updates (got one just now)! Couldn’t you also announce something as important as this via email too? In the comments under Lijit’s blog announcement you see Ned Jordan writing: “You should have informed your users by email before rolling this out. I wasted a lot of time tonight trying to track down the redirects in the fear that it was some sort of hack.”
2) It was not an opt-in decision — I was not only notified of the change. Nobody asked whether I want this to happen to my links; and neither do I see a way to opt-out of this. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has a problem with this. Peter Hesse does too, and his below-quoted Twitter conversation with Lijit is quite illustrative to this whole post of mine (highlighting added by me):
I find it interesting how a user says one thing (proposes “an option to disable” this new function), and Lijit says they “take everything [their] users tell [them] seriously”, but isn’t actually addressing the problem. Disabling it in an individual mode isn’t what he is (or I am) talking about.
Due to all of the above, and the conclusions I had to make, Lijit’s Wijit (the search widget) goes from my blog.