Posterous Starts Testing Affiliate Links Without Telling Users

We’ve covered Posterous here on multiple occasions simply because it’s an awesome blogging service. Setting up your new blog is as simple as sending an email.  It’s simple to set up, simple to maintain, and free without being overburdened with ads. Just recently, however, one user noticed something fishy going on. Posterous was converting links to affiliate links without any prior notification or consent. This particular user was able to see what was going on because of a minor glitch on how the affiliate links were being generated.

What’s really going on is that Posterous has partnered with a service called VigLink. What VigLink does is to convert outgoing links into affiliate links on the fly. So, as the visitor clicks a link in your post, some fancy Javascript code intercepts the click and adds an affiliate code. What this would do is help to generate revenue for Posterous, which is a good thing. Rather than sticking a bunch of banner ads all over the place or using some type of invasive monetization strategy that would interfere with the user experience, Posterous has chosen to try a relatively benign strategy that most users and visitors won’t even notice.

The primary issue here is that Posterous did not notify users of the potential changes (they have only been testing the feature so far). Full disclosure and transparency have become pretty standard, so this being accidentally discovered by a user looks kind of shady. Posterous cofounder Sachin Agarwal has since posted an apology regarding the matter. The integration with VigLink actually began in December of 2009 on an experimental basis. There are also a few points to note:

  1. Links in Posterous posts are not edited in any way
  2. VigLink Javascript intercepts clicks and adds an affiliate code when possible, but affiliate codes are not stripped or altered if they already exist
  3. Copying links is unchanged
  4. Publishers can opt-out specific links my including a rel=”noskim” attribute with an option coming to omit entire pages
  5. There is no breaking of the web, redirecting, or other trickery that might have an adverse effect on your page rankings with Google. VigLink is backed by Google Ventures, after all. (VigLink statement)

Some users are upset that Posterous would do something without notification, or that Posterous is monetizing using affiliate links, or even that Posterous is changing anything period. The bottom line is that Posterous isn’t doing anything all that serious here except to neglect notifying users of what they were doing and potentially tenting their perception of transparency.

via TC



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