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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

Zillow launches real estate brokerage after eons of swearing they wouldn’t

(MEDIA) We’ve warned of this for years, the industry funded it, and Zillow Homes brokerage has launched, and there are serious questions at hand.

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zillow group

Zillow Homes was announced today, a Zillow licensed brokerage that will be fully operational in 2021 in Phoenix, Tucson, and Atlanta.

Whoa, big huge yawn-inducing shocker, y’all.

We’ve been warning for more than a decade that this was the end game, and the company blackballed us for our screams (and other criticisms, despite praise when merited here and there).

Blog posts were penned in fiery effigy calling naysayers like us stupid and paranoid.

Well color me unsurprised that the clarity of the gameplan was clear as day all along over here, and the paid talking heads sent out to astroturf, gaslight, and threaten us are now all quiet.

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We watched The Social Dilemma – here are some social media tips that stuck with us

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Here are some takeaways from watching Netflix’s The Social Dilemma that helped me to eliminate some social media burnout.

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Neon social media like heart with a 0

Last weekend, I made the risky decision to watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. I knew it was an important thing to watch, but the risk was that I also knew it would wig me out a bit. As much as I’m someone who is active “online,” the concept of social media overwhelms me almost more than it entertains (or enlightens) me.

The constant sharing of information, the accessibility to information, and the endless barrage of notifications are just a few of the ways social media can cause overwhelm. The documentary went in deeper than this surface-level content and got into the nitty gritty of how people behind the scenes use your data and track your usage.

Former employees of high-profile platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, and Pinterest gave their two cents on the dangers of social media from a technological standpoint. Basically, our data isn’t just being tracked to be passed along for newsletters and the like. But rather, humans are seen as products that are manipulated to buy and click all day every day in order to make others money and perpetuate information that has astronomical effects. (I’m not nearly as intelligent as these people, so watch the documentary to get the in-depth look at how all of this operates.)

One of the major elements that stuck with me was the end credits of The Social Dilemma where they asked interviewees about the ways they are working to eliminate social media overwhelm in their own lives. Some of these I’ve implemented myself and can attest to. Here’s a short list of things you can do to keep from burning out online.

  1. Turn off notifications – unless there are things you need to know about immediately (texts, emails, etc.) turn it off. Getting 100 individual notifications within an hour from those who liked your Instagram post will do nothing but burn you (and your battery) out.
  2. Know how to use these technologies to change the conversation and not perpetuate things like “fake news” and clickbait.
  3. Uninstall apps that are wasting your time. If you feel yourself wasting hours per week mindlessly scrolling through Facebook but not actually using it, consider deleting the app and only checking the site from a desktop or Internet browser.
  4. Research and consider using other search tools instead of Google (one interviewee mentioned that Qwant specifically does not collect/store your information the way Google does).
  5. Don’t perpetuate by watching recommended videos on YouTube, those are tailored to try and sway or sell you things. Pick your own content.
  6. Research the many extensions that remove these recommendations and help stop the collection of your data.

At the end of the day, just be mindful of how you’re using social media and what you’re sharing – not just about yourself, but the information you’re passing along from and to others. Do your part to make sure what you are sharing is accurate and useful in this conversation.

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WeChat ban blocked by California judge, but for how long?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) WeChat is protected by First Amendment concerns for now, but it’s unclear how long the app will remain as pressure mounts.

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WeChat app icon on an iPhone screen

WeChat barely avoided a US ban after a Californian judge stepped in to temporarily block President Trump’s executive order. Judge Laurel Beeler cited the effects of the ban on US-based WeChat users and how it threatened the First Amendment rights of those users.

“The plaintiffs’ evidence reflects that WeChat is effectively the only means of communication for many in the community, not only because China bans other apps, but also because Chinese speakers with limited English proficiency have no options other than WeChat,” Beeler wrote.

WeChat is a Chinese instant messaging and social media/mobile transaction app with over 1 billion active monthly users. The WeChat Alliance, a group of users who filed the lawsuit in August, pointed out that the ban unfairly targets Chinese-Americans as it’s the primary app used by the demographic to communicate with loved ones, engage in political discussions, and receive news.

The app, along with TikTok, has come under fire as a means for China to collect data on its users. U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has stated, “At the President’s direction, we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.”

This example is yet another symptom of our ever-globalizing society where we are learning to navigate between connectivity and privacy. The plaintiffs also pointed out alternatives to an outright ban. One example cited was in Australia, where WeChat is now banned from government officials’ phones but not others.

Beeler has said that the range in alternatives to preserving national security affected her decision to strike down the ban. She also explained that in regards to dealing with national security, there is “scant little evidence that (the Commerce Department’s) effective ban of WeChat for all US users addresses those concerns.”

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