* article updated: see bottom of article

Josh Davis reported on how Pinterest, the web's new this is going to change everything" social site, seems to make its money; by stealthily inserting affiliate codes into your links.

If you post a pin to Pinterest, and it links to an ecommerce site that happens to have an affiliate program, Pinterest modifies the link to add their own affiliate tracking code. [...] They dont have any disclosure of this link modification on their site [...]
-- Josh Davis, Pinterest is quietly generating revenue by modifying user submitted pins

Thats not cool.

Its totally OK to make money with a site. Really, were all for it! And if you want to do that by doing the we modify links so they become affiliate links for our benefit - more power to you.

IF there is is clear, upfront disclosure, that is.

If not, well, then it becomes as sneaky and backhanded as ISPs hijacking search sessions to inject moolah inducing content (another reason why Google going HTTPS is cool).

Clear, upfront disclosure is key.

Like the +1 button as fake spam blocker earlier this week, this may all very well fit just between the lines -- but it feels wrong.

And talking about wrong, how is Google going to balance their intense dislike of affiliate-driven sites and Pinterest's 36+ million indexed pages?


Of course there are two sides to everything with those that are all for disclosure and those that don't really see the point; some calling it outright the  hypocrisy of affiliate disclosure rules.

Their House, Their Rules

Of course if it can be done, if it's fully allowed, then it's their house, their rules. As long as we're not throwing that out there to simply cut off any discussion I'm fine with that. But the question how we want our Internet to be is one in flux and not a bad one to discuss.

How do you feel about this? Would it matter to you if Twitter were to start modifying it's links to add Twitter-benefiting affiliate code?

* Update: Skimlinks, the company powering the link injection, informally responds via its blog, distancing itself every so slightly from Pinterest's non-disclosure :

Pinterests use of Skimlinks technology is nothing new, nor is it secretive. Skimlinks has been around for almost 4 years now [...] Creating a beautiful, user-friendly site, as Pinterest has done, mandates a non-intrusive way to make money. [...]

While we fully encourage transparency and disclosure, at the very least because it is a nice thing to do, many sites choose not to be blatant about their monetization techniques [...]

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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3 Responses to “Pinterest Changing Your Links Into Their Affiliate Ones”

  1. James Morell says:

    How is Google going to balance this with a dislike of affiliate sites? They are an investor in Viglinks, a Skimlinks competitor, so my guess is that they're not.

    If you read Pinterest's terms, you "hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services."

    You also represent that you own copyright on anything you post, but how many people care who owns the copyright on the images they post on Pinterest? Pretty much no-one, but I bet the owners of that material do.

    A point I've made a number of times is to look at the money – nothing is ever free. If there are no ads on Pinterest they'll be making money another way, and it only takes a quick look at the source to see it's Skimlinks. If I were Pinterest I'd be looking to sell user data onto ad exchanges too – they know what people are interested in from the names of their boards, they know what they like from what they re-pin, and they've got enough scale to mine that data really nicely and make a load of cash off the back of it.

    But then who really wants pretty things to make money eh?

    • Ruud Hein says:

      Good points, James, especially on the making money part. Reminded me of the points the founder of Pinboard (the premium online bookmarking service) made in Don't Be A Free User.

      Impressive legal language in that outtake there, by the way. Sucks.

  2. Thanks for clearing up this subject for me! I've received many questions on it and have been working on a blog post myself so I appreciate the insight **coffee cup cheers**