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Pinterest covertly swaps out your links for affiliate links

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Big money, big money!

In order to obtain funding, every tech startup has to show investors what their financial strategy is – some begin as free communities that turn premium, others are ad supported, but in an interesting twist, Pinterest has opted for a different alternative wherein they use a service called Skimlinks, according to VentureBeat, which swaps out links behind product pins and replaces the source link with an affiliate link.

For example, any product pinned from Amazon will automatically have a replaced link that becomes an affiliate link so that Pinterest gets a cut if someone makes a purchase from their referral. Some are calling this move questionable and deceptive, others have no problem with the blossoming startup to make money through affiliate dollars.

Josh Davis at LLsocial.com was first to notice the sneaky switch, noting, “I, like many people, don’t have a problem with Pinterest making money off of user content. The links are modified seamlessly so it doesn’t affect the experience. Pinterest likely should disclose this practice to users even if they aren’t required to do so by law, if only to maintain trust with their users.”

Why not the Twitter approach?

As it stands, it appears that only links leading to a retailer that has an affiliate program (like Amazon, eBay, etc.) will have the original source code altered, but if Pinterest is not forthcoming with this revenue strategy in a way that users are aware of and accepting of, what covert moves will be made next? The albatross around Facebook’s neck that they continue to skirt is privacy issues, ignoring user preferences (or “rights” as advocates will claim) – will Pinterest’s albatross be secret revenue streams?

We all anticipated that Pinterest would take a page from Twitter’s playbook and have promoted pins or promoted boards, placing brands’ paid pins in a fixed position or mixed in with people you are already following, but this is an interesting twist indeed. Do you think it is okay for Pinterest to swap out the original source code in pins you create, or are they within their rights to make money off of products you share?

Tell us in the comments if you would like an invitation into Pinterest, we will share ours right away. Please connect with us on Pinterest as we continue pinning away:

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Ricardo Bueno

    February 8, 2012 at 2:42 am

    I'm not against them finding a way to monetize – good for them, especially on a service that's free to users. What I don't like however, is the lack of disclosure. I find it deceitful.

  2. suzanne

    February 8, 2012 at 7:32 am

    I do not think this should be done w/o disclosing……it IS deceitful. Lack of trust from the get go is NOT good.

  3. Lisa Young

    February 8, 2012 at 9:41 am

    I'm not particularly keen on the lack of disclosure, and I know one of my boards is nothing but books I recommend with my own Amazon links, which means they're swapping out my link for theirs. It's not like I make a ton of money on it, and I'd recommend the books whether or not I make anything off the links, but it's still kind of creepy that they don't disclose that anywhere. Makes you wonder what else they're not disclosing.

    • Deidre

      February 8, 2012 at 11:30 am

      I think this speaks to the growing trend on the internet of site owners profiting off of user generated content. It was one thing when ads ran next to content that writers had been paid for but now Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social sharing sites are essentially monetizing content that users are giving away for free. That's fine if the users are aware of it but it's sneaky if users are contributing to a company's bottom line and not aware of how their content is being appropriated.

  4. Jessie Geroux

    February 8, 2012 at 10:16 am

    I much prefer this route (but would love the disclosure piece) over having to wade though promoted/paid for pins—to me sliding in promoted 'pins' with the people I already follow is just as sneaky if not more, because it makes it seem like I somehow chose that to be there because I had chosen to follow the person that pinned it.

  5. Mickey

    February 8, 2012 at 10:22 am

    To Lisa's point, what if someone is trying to use Pinterest to promote their own affiliate links? In that case, Pinterest is doing a disservice to certain users. At the very least they need to be clear and up-front about the practice, not allow folks to just stumble upon this information. It gives them the appearance of being deceptive.

    Having said that, clearly they need to generate revenue somehow. I have no issue with them doing so, it's just important to be up front about it.

  6. Vicki Flaugher

    February 8, 2012 at 10:25 am

    This is illegal. Unless Pinerest fully and openly discloses affiliate revenue link usage, they are not following the FCC rules. They will likely get fined and fined big, likely enough to shut down this clearly struggling (and burgeoning) start up. Google fcc endorsment disclosure and you will find all the relevant information. Not cool. Completely not cool.

  7. Mitch Labuda

    February 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    The Pinterest TOS includes member content, which per the site, is also links.

    I asked if links are considered member content and the answer is, so the site lays claims to links per the TOS.

  8. Bill Hibbler

    February 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Personally, I don't have a problem with it. I'm not sure they're violating FTC regulations as they aren't endorsing or promoting the products and I much prefer this to slipping in sponsored pins.

    However, they should be aware that a good portion of their users will be offended by the idea of them somehow profiting from their users pins under any circumstances and the majority will be upset about the lack of transparency. Given the traction this story is getting today, I think we'll see disclosure on the site soon.

  9. Thevelvetkitten

    February 11, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Yes,I have a problem when it is my stuff being loaded by a 3rd party and it is my work and by their toa,that 3rd party gives them full rights to even SELL . I call BS!!!
    Not to mention if I don't want my stuff there I will never find all of it to have it removed. Nor do I have the time or should I even have to make the time to police their site.

    Enough is enough.

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Social Media

Reactions to Twitter Blue from real subscribers, p.s. its not worth it

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Twitter’s paid subscription service, Twitter Blue, gives more control over tweets and custom UI, but subscriber reception has been lukewarm.

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Twitter Blue Sign Up Page

Twitter Blue, a paid subscription service that gives users increased control over their tweets and the appearance of their interfaces, launched this summer. Subscriber reception has been lukewarm, foreshadowing some resistance to shifts away from advertising-based revenue models for social media platforms.

The allure of Twitter Blue isn’t immediately apparent; beyond a relatively low price tag and increased exclusivity on a platform that emphasizes individuality, the service doesn’t offer much to alter the Twitter experience. Twitter Blue’s main selling point – the ability to preview and alter tweets before sending them – may not be enough to convince users to shell out the requisite three dollars per month.

Other features include the option to change the theme color and icon appearances. Twitter Blue subscribers can also read some ad-supported news articles without having to view ads courtesy of Twitter’s acquisition of Scroll, a company that provides ad-free news browsing.

But even with this variety of small customization options and the promise of more to come, users are skeptical. Android Central’s Shruti Shekar is one such user, beginning her review with, “Right off the bat, this feature isn’t worth the money you’d be spending on it every month.”

Shekar posits that the majority of the features are wasted on long-term users. “I think a lot of my opinions come from a place of using Twitter for so long in a certain way that I’ve gotten used to it, and now I find it challenging to adapt to something that would theoretically make my life easier,” she explains.

One of those adaptations centers on Twitter Blue’s “Undo Tweet” feature – something that belies the notion of proofreading and using common sense before sending thoughts into the nether.

“For me, 95% of the time, I really do pay attention to my tweets before I send them out,” says Shekar.

Twitter Blue checking Tweets before sending.

Shekar does praise Twitter Blue’s “Reader Mode” feature that allows users to view threads as uninterrupted columns but argues that the feature would probably end up being underutilized despite being a cool concept.

The aforementioned color and theme customization was of little interest to Shekar. “I actually found it a bit challenging to get used to the other colors, not because they’re ugly, but again because I am just so used to the classic blue,” she says.

One problem here is that the options to change link and theme colors and put threads in reader mode seem more like accessibility features than premium content. Twitter might do well to make these available to all users, if for no other reason than to avoid criticism about locking quality of life updates behind a subscription paywall.

Shekar’s criticism hits on a crucial point for any social media company looking to emulate Twitter Blue’s subscription model: Even if the subscription price is low, companies have to be prepared to make actual meaningful changes to the user experience if they want satisfied subscribers. That includes building in options that don’t fundamentally alter the basic aspects (or appearance) of the platform.

For more on Twitter Blue, check out their blog post on it here.

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Social Media

Instagram flaunts new features, including a decked out desktop experience  

(SOCIAL MEDIA) It’s been a time of exciting product and feature announcements for Instagram with additions of Collabs, fundraisers, and desktop posts on deck

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Instagram displayed on a desktop

It’s been a time of exciting product and feature announcements for Instagram on both mobile and desktop.

Collabs Feature

“Collabs” allows up to 2 accounts to co-author a post or Reel, both sharing joint ownership of what is ultimately published. The post or Reel will show up equally on both users’ feeds with the same amount of engagement numbers, but combined, including comments, view numbers, and like counts. This is initiated through the tagging screen and the invited account will have to accept the offer before the collab can be complete.

Examples of adding a co-author in Instagram Collabs feature

Fundraiser & Reel Features

Instagram was quick to jump on the short-form content trends taking the social media world by storm. With the rise of TikTok, the Insta platform that was originally focused on static photos added Reels, along the same wavelength of short 15, 30, or 60-second videos, though the competitor has now expanded with the option of 3 minutes. Even so, Instagram is taking the time to improve music-related features within the Reels section of the app, adding “Superbeat” and “Dynamic.” The first adds effects to the video matching the beat of the chosen song, while the latter offers unique and interesting ways to display the song’s lyrics on screen. In addition, they are beginning to test the option to run fundraisers on a post by clicking the + button in the top right corner of the interface.

Examples of Dynamic for Reels feature

 Desktop Feature

FINALLY! Instagram is now realizing just how many users truly enjoy the desktop experience. If one were to compare the platform on the mobile app vs. desktop, they would see the slew of differences between the two with the desktop interface looking like the 1st year Instagram was even introduced. Functionality is no comparison; they only just added the ability to DM on desktop last year. As one can see, there is an extremely limited experience on desktop, but Instagram is now rolling out the ability for users to post from their browsers. Catch us enjoying posts on the big screen!

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Social Media

Truth Social: Trump’s long-standing battle against Big Tech backfires

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Truth Social is an example of how a new platform, though necessary to keep competition alive, can prove to be fallible before it succeeds.

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Man holding iPhone with Truth Social app download page up, as well as the stock market and Trump in the background on computer screens.

Former President Donald J. Trump announced a new social media platform, dubbed “Truth Social” last week. The platform has since been the recipient of cyber attacks by hacker collective Anonymous and the Software Freedom Conservancy has accused the Trump Media and Technology Group of violating the terms of their software agreement.

The circumstances plaguing Truth Social provide a small (if nuanced) look into the rigors of creating and sustaining new social media platforms in the modern-day. While expanding the number of social media platforms available creates more competition, this platform, in particular, raises some questions about the wisdom of investing in a service that creates an ideological echo chamber, as well as demonstrating that not just anyone can run a social media site.

There’s no denying that this new entry into the world of social media is off to a rocky start. Cyberattacks just hours after Truth Social’s test run left the site in disarray, with fake user accounts for Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump appearing at various stages of the launch. Truth Social’s hosts eventually took it offline, and the sign-up process is halted for the time being.

Woman holding iPhone showing Truth Social's feed.

Truth Social also has some interesting rules regarding user interactions on their platform, including a non-disparagement clause and the assertion that users can be sued for the content they post, Time reports.

“In addition to terminating or suspending your account, we reserve the right to take appropriate legal action, including without limitation pursuing civil, criminal, and injunctive redress,” says one section of the Truth Social terms of use.

This clause is in stark contrast to the ethos behind Truth Social – a platform that, according to the press release, was “founded with a mission to give a voice to all” and “stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech.”

The disparity in messaging versus reality is an understandable mistake, as much of Trump’s mindset was most likely impacted by criticism levied against him on mainstream social media when he had his accounts – and anyone in the same position might reasonably make the same call. However, restricting users to agree with one set political ideology is a perilous precedent to set. Echo chambers aren’t particularly conducive to longevity.

iPhone showing Trump's suspended Twitter account.

The Trump Media and Technology Group also violated the terms of their open-source software of choice when they uploaded the pilot version of Truth Social. According to the licensing agreement associated with Mastodon – the software company TMTG used – users must have access to the source code for the product in question (in this case, Truth Social).

Since the initial users of Truth Social did not receive that access, the social media platform is at risk of permanently losing its rights to the code.

While some of these pitfalls feel proprietary to Trump insofar as his high-profile battle against social media is concerned, the truth is that any development of new social media entries will be messy and fraught with obstacles. Truth Social is just one example of how a new platform – something that is absolutely necessary to keep competition alive – can prove to be publicly fallible far before it ever succeeds.

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