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  1. #1
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    I've been developing a program for detecting and exposing foul play on affiliate links and
    as a result, I've been looking in detail at the cookie writing processes for all networks.

    This afternoon a significant event was found that everyone should be aware of. While
    only basic discovery has been done, it appears likely that CJ has a definate edge on
    tracking and reduction in negative impacts from cookie washers over other networks.

    CJ has a "centralized cookie file" that is used to track all information for
    "non batch merchants". There are actually two files (www.commission-junction[?].txt and
    www.qksrv[?].txt)
    Cookie information for each merchant is appended in this file rather than creating
    individual merchant cookies (although bacthed merchants do create merchant cookies).

    Cookies can be deleted by cookie washers with file based operations (much like you can go
    to windows explorer and delete a cookie file) but there is one file that can't be deleted
    by file based operations (at least not on xp) and it's called index.dat. Index.dat is
    basically a cached file and I've only seen it truely cleared out by using the browser purge
    cookies function.

    Consider the below scenario:

    1) I clicked on a cj link for merchant 1 and verified that the two cj tracking files were
    created and that the merchant info was present in the cj tracking files and that no
    individual merchant cookie was created. I closed the browser.
    2) I opened windows explorer and went to the cookie folder and deleted the two cj tracking
    files.
    3) I clicked on another cj link for merchant 2 (not the same cookie info that was deleted).
    This click on another cj merchant causes a restoration of the cj tracking files and the
    important note is that all previous tracking information was restored as well as the info
    from the new merchant just clicked. Thats right even the cookie info from the merchant who had the cookie washed reappears.
    4) I opened the browser and did a direct type in of the merchant's url I clicked on in step 1
    (I didn't want to create another affiliate cookie for the test). I made a test purchase for merchant 1 to see if it would track and IT DID.

    This means that all CJ tracking information is restored from cookies deleted via file based
    operations any time a CJ link is clicked on. Obviously, this can limit negative impacts from
    cookie washers that only run periodically such as at boot up time. Any time a CJ link is
    clicked on in this type of scenario, all cookies are restored, are effective and can track on orders.

    Thats the good news - the bad news is that if a part of your cj links have been tampered with, the cookie is restored with the tampered id intact as well. I should be releasing my
    program in the next couple of weeks or sooner and it will help you easily detect issues
    with cookies not being created and identify links that have being tampered with. The madness and tampering of affiliate cookies will soon be easily detected and at your fingertips.

    The other networks tracking seems to be reliant (in part or in whole) on individual
    merchant cookies created and a click on a specific network merchant cookie will only result in that cookie being restored and not all the others a part of the network.

    Anyway, my hats off to CJ on the implementation of this one!

    What I would like to see next would be for the networks to get together (ARRRRGH) or some
    other party to develop a single integrated system for tracking affiliate cookies much in the same way that CJ has done. CJ's cookie processing only limits negative impact from cookie washers when another CJ link is clicked on. Imagine if a single intrgated file was used where a click on "any network affiliate link" resulted in recovery of all affiliate links from all networks - much better right.

    Surely a ton of sales and income are lost to the networks and affiliates from cookie washers
    and it appears that with a little effort and coordination, these losses could be greatly reduced rather easily. Just as sure as a bunch of income opportunities are lost, you can bet that cookie washers will proliferate as more and more pc's are sold. More and more users turn 18 everyday get a credit card and begin shopping online! I'd feel much better about this industry if I saw steps like I outlined above being taken to positively position the industry for stronger growth rather than increased interference and needless losses due to "technology providers"!

    Wake up networks!

    To all those saying they are leaving CJ and moving to other networks.... you might want to reconsider this. I remember a poll not to long ago regarding network conversions and who
    was the clear winner - is it time for another one?. Obviously things can and do change fast
    "despite some people constantly reminding us that the wheels of a corporation move slowly"
    when it's convenient. From what I see, CJ is a clear winner on conversions over the other
    networks and their cookie processing is likely a key reason for this.

    Even if we can't get the networks together for an integrated approach maybe they'll benefit
    from this post and research or at least implement their own version of this kind of
    processing.

    Big Daddy Don called me cynical recently so I'll try and live up to his expectations by
    making the following prediction. In the not so distant future, merchants will be
    further undermining their affiliates and the networks they belong in by offering a free
    cookie washer with every purchase.

  2. #2
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    Great bit of research Poon.

    Oh, and glad to see you back here.

    Andy Williams

    Keyword DARTs - New search engine optimization software
    http://www.affiliate-masters.co.uk/k...timization.htm

  3. #3
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    Question - while this may be true of cookies behavior while you maintain an open browser - that is how the cache works, you also cannot change a cookie for perm to temporary under that condition. I do not think this behavoir continues if your browser is closed.

    So if the user visits the site, gets the cookie. Reboots. Cookie deleted on startup. Browser opened, new cj link visited, the old cookie is really gone.

    At which point CJ's cookies are a liability as it is easy to snipe one cookie, but less likely that every vendor will have their cookies blocked as well.

    I looked at that issue a bit ago, has this behavoir changed? At least on IE, did you test other browsers?

    Chet

  4. #4
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    Chet,

    The browser was closed immediately after the initial cookie was created. Then the deletes, A new browser, re-establishment of CJ cookie on another link and then a purchase.

    The test was done on xp using IE6 and I did not test using other browsers or OS/s. The processing is likely different with other configurations but the one used for testing is likely the most prevalent.

    You do bring an interesting point concerning the caching though. If the cj files are deleted at the time a shutdown is performed, the cookies are lost and not recovered on subsequent cj clinks in another boot session. This does not mean however that the networks couldn't do a work around by storing minimal active cookie information on their end and re-writing it when the cookie is recreated though.

    [This message was edited by happypoon on June 14, 2003 at 06:57 AM.]

  5. #5
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    But without a cookie to match back to the user, how could they attach the old cookie data to the new? They can't.

    And since the cookie is deleted for real on reboot, and since most cleaners run on startup. The single CJ cookie is a liability (not picking on cj, it seems like a logical way to do it, but as the world of paranoia changes...), it is a one shot cookie that will be in all of the anti-cookie software because it tracks information over multiple sites.

    Whereas the cookie stored by the merchant, is for that merchant only. So it will most likely not always be listed by anti-cookie software since it is not sharing info, and the chance that every merchant will be listed by the anti-cookie software is unlikely.

    Chet

  6. #6
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by happypoon
    I've been developing a program for detecting and exposing foul play on affiliate links and as a result, I've been looking in detail at the cookie writing processes for all networks.
    ...
    I should be releasing my program in the next couple of weeks or sooner and it will help you easily detect issues with cookies not being created and identify links that have being tampered with. The madness and tampering of affiliate cookies will soon be easily detected and at your fingertips.
    Released yet?

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