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  1. #1
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    In the cookie-stuffing thread I started earlier this week, I presented a few specific examples of cookie-stuffing targeting major CJ merchants. I've been a bit disappointed in the response to date: Todd promptly said his team would look into this, but his subsequent comments seemed to be addressing a different situation altogether. All in all, we've gotten no answer in the last 2 days as to how this problem has developed and what CJ plans to do about it, notwithstanding that the facts are clear as can be, and even CJ's rules seem to be quite clear in prohibiting the practices I described and archived.

    So I thought I'd post some new videos and HTML snippets, showing how other merchants are targeted by cookie-stuffing. I picked a mix of merchants: Some of CJ's biggest merchants (from their Featured Merchants page), plus some ABW merchants who are, I gather, generally known for their attention to these kinds of problems. Interestingly, I found cookie-stuffing targeting every single merchant I tested (with a single exception, Backcountry.com, though to be sure I only did 5-10 minutes of looking for cookie-stuffers, so there's probably something out there yet).

    My morning's work is at Cookie-Stuffing Targeting Major Affiliate Merchants. I'll be adding to this page from time to time, e.g. with more targeted merchants (shortly from LS and elsewhere, as well as these CJ merchants), more affiliates, and more cookie-stuffing methods.

    One new development that I hadn't previously thought about is the problem of Google indexing affiliates' pages that frame merchants' sites. If Google indexes a FRAMESET that frames a merchant's site via an affiliate link, then a user clicking to that Google result will get the merchant's site loaded through an affiliate link. This is identical to cookie-stuffing in its effect -- cookies set without affirmative user intent to browse to merchant's site, and without user clicking on any affiliate link. But the affiliates making these FRAMESETs may not have realized what was happening or what they could do to stop it. However, I don't want this subtlety to detract from the main point of my posting: At least as to the affiliates using JavaScript, IFRAMEs, and IMG tags to force cookies, it's hard to see any significant question of intent; the rules are unambiguous; and all that's needed is enforcement. Who's going to enforce the rules, and when?

  2. #2
    ABW Ambassador qball0213's Avatar
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    Ben, just a quick note, your linking to the dentalplans video fromt the funtocollect page.

  3. #3
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    Good work ben.
    Thanks
    Asif

  4. #4
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    In the section on Affiliate Networks Benefit from Cookie-Stuffing I have several suggestions.

    1) I would expand that to include data that includes something along the line of :

    "While many affiliates and merchants strongly object to cookie stuffing and networks have polices (sometimes very vague) thay say the practices are not allowed, enforcement of such policies are rare or penalties or removal for such action has been rare if at all.

    With networks financially benefiting from cookie stuffing "which they clearly do", the incentive for them have clear policies with well defined penalties and taking actions from abuses reported to them has been much less than what they pose themselves as "a trusted third party".

    ........
    These points are very important IMO for us to garner actions from the networks. Without network actions, these issues will rise substantially under the current conditions. Many of the sites you list with abuse were found repeatidly when I initially tested, and after being removed from many merchants I no longer saw them showing up in my testing. They are back at it again!

    I suppose a different section specifically outlining "Network detection of abuses and enforcement history" could be labeled out if desired with some of the above stuff in it as well.

    2) While I understand this report is specific to CJ targeting, I would consider adding a statement that points out that enforcement problems don't just exist with CJ. The last three titanium award winners from linkshare (with a 15K prize) has been awarded to affiliates who were using these practices. While the winners of these awards did subsequently have their prize money rekoved from complaints, they still operate within the network.

    Food for thought.

  5. #5
    2005 Linkshare Golden Link Award Winner  ecomcity's Avatar
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    Seems the major theme for tricksters and cookie stuffers have a common link ....Our mission is to provide best online coupons, coupon codes, free stuff, freebies, rebates, bargains, promotion codes, discount shopping codes to our customers.

    Those not content to educate their users to open a new window, while shopping real merchants sites or other affiliate sites who showcase products, to interupt the normal shopping process ...now cookie stuff. Poaching and feeding off cart cart abandonment is normal as these incenters spam Google as the DEAL/Coupon yellow pages. Is all forms of incentive advertising this sleezy??
    Webmaster's... Mike and Charlie

    "What have you done today to put real value into a referral click...from a shoppers viewpoint!"

  6. #6
    Affiliate Marketing Consultant Linda - 5starAffiliatePrograms's Avatar
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    Thanks for your hard work on this Ben. I will alert Dentalplans to your research.

  7. #7
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    Ok Linda...we will either contact the affiliate and tell them they can't do that or expire them. What do you suggest?
    Thanks,
    Evan

  8. #8
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    Evan,

    It's obviously your decision rather than mine. But if you determine that the affiliate I reported 1) is otherwise an affiliate in good standing, 2) is using the frame URL I mention for its ordinary framing of your site, and 3) merely stood by passively while Google indexed the pages at issue, then I would be hesitant to expire the affiliate.

    On the other hand, I would require that the affiliate either cease using frames, or implement a system (referrer checker, robots exclusion, etc.) to avoid the cookie-stuffing effect I have found. Personally, I would require that the affiliate implement this improvement for all merchants, not just one, so that the problem really is solved.

  9. #9
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    Already expired....let me know if there are any other concerns.
    Thanks,
    Evan

  10. #10
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    An update: I've added more videos. I now have videos showing cookie-stuffing by the following 18 affiliates:

    [Please remember the ABW affiliate url posting policy]

    I have shown the following 20 merchants being targeted:

    Barnes & Noble
    Crucial.com
    DentalPlans
    Eastwood
    eVitamins
    FunToCollect
    HSN
    Irv's Luggage
    JCWhitney
    LaptopsforLess
    Match.com
    MLB.COM
    Napster
    Netzero
    Oreck
    PetcareCentral
    RapidSatellite
    Shoes.com
    ShopNBC
    Toshiba

    (That's a mix of some "Featured" CJ merchants plus the middle section of the alphabetical list of CJ merchants with ABW fora. That is to say, even diligent ABW merchants are vulnerable to this problem, as are the "top" merchants CJ proudly touts.)

    All in all: Lots of merchants are targeted. One merchant recently wrote to me and told me I had found a top-5 affiliate doing cookie-stuffing. Serious business.


    So how about it Todd? What is CJ's Quality department doing to address these problems?


    BTW, thanks to happypoon for the suggestions on the article. I've revised it appropriately.

  11. #11
    ABW Founder Haiko de Poel, Jr.'s Avatar
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    quote:
    So how about it Todd? What is CJ's Quality department doing to address these problems?


    From this thread
    quote:
    For the quarter ended September 30, 2004, ValueClick reported revenue of $43.5 million, compared to the Company's previously issued guidance of $37.0 million to $39.0 million. Third quarter 2004 revenue increased $20.8 million, or 92 percent, from revenue of $22.7 million for the third quarter of 2003.


    What do you think they are going to do?
    Continued Success,

    Haiko
    The secret of success is constancy of purpose ~ Disraeli

  12. #12
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    quote:
    Originally posted by Ben Edelman:
    An update: I've added more videos. I now have videos showing cookie-stuffing by the following 18 affiliates:

    [Please remember the ABW affiliate url posting policy]




    Ben, I know you can't post the affiliates urls on ABW, but please continue to post them on the link that you gave earlier. It looks like that will be the only way to get some action. I really respect Evan for expiring that affiliate so quickly. I think this will be the only way for changes to be made. Thank you so much for what you are doing.

  13. #13
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    quote:
    Originally posted by Haiko:
    quote:
    So how about it Todd? What is CJ's Quality department doing to address these problems?



    What do you think they are going to do?


    I take it that means NADA

  14. #14
    pph Expert! Gordon's Avatar
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    quote:
    I take it that means NADA
    Exactly!! What they (Todd & Stephen) were saying a month or so back about removing some affiliates for cheating was just paying lip service to us, they have no bloody intention of stopping these people, the sooner someone with cash takes them to court the sooner they will be closed down and the sooner we can all get back to receiving ALL the comissions we have earned and not just the 50% or so that the parasites and the Networks allow us to keep.
    One day parasites and their ilk will be made illegal, I bet a few Lawyers will be pissed off when the day comes.
    Mr. Spitzer is fetching it nearer

    YouTrek

  15. #15
    Defender of Truth, Justice and the Affiliate Way
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    Evan,

    PLEASE reconsider reinstating that affiliate if they will accept a huge apology and continue to promote DentalPlans (I have no idea how much they did for you but I'm sure that didn't factor into your decision). That affiliate was doing ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong (based on the review of the data in the linked article).

    Google indexed the affiliates framed link (very obvious what was happening just by purely looking at the page that came up on the click from google). For years Google would not even indexed such frames, although they will pick them up now.

    The technique that is being used by that affiliate is one that MANY affiliates started using in order to PROTECT themselves against parasites. Particularly those affiliates who didn't want to bet on a parasite being 'compliant' and honoring afsrc=1. It is a technique in fact that many here at ABW encouraged affiliates to use in order to protect their revenue against parasites.

    And what happens? This affiliate who was doing ABSOLUTELY, and I repeat ABSOLUTELY, nothing wrong has now been terminated from a Merchants program. An affiliate may very well have just been trying to protect their revenue. Who may have well gotten the advice here on ABW.

    Evan I know that you and Linda are just trying to do what's right by your affiliates. Ben I know that you are just trying to do what is right by affiliates and have the best of intentions. But can we all just take a bit of a deep breath and slow down just a bit. There is definitely quite a bit going on out there where affiliates are up to no good. But can we make sure that we are all understanding what is really going on and that the innocent are not being falsely accused publicly and worse yet that honest affs are getting terminated from Merchant's programs?

    Aff's have gotten screwed enough as it is. Let's not have those of us who truly want things better for honest affs adding to their woes.

    Haiko I'd like to request that you and the Mods discuss this issue of aff URL posting and in particular with accusations of wrong doing on how to handle this? I know that URL's will continue to be posted. I see the URL's were removed, but I got the email notification with them listed, at least one aff has been terminated from a program because of the posting and although I haven't looked at all those videos (which I believe are the same sites listed in the article), I have already seen 2 more on the list which is the exact same situation and the affiliates were doing nothing wrong. I know that way back in the past when someone wanted to post about another aff doing monkey business that the info had to be given to Haiko first and then all the Mods would review and make a decision prior to any type of public posting. Maybe something like that could be implemented again or at least we can get Mod's input?

  16. #16
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    Thanks for the run down, we can reinstate this CJ affiliate no problem. Let me talk to Linda and make sure Ben understands that this is not cookie stuffing. Thanks for the heads up!
    Evan

  17. #17
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    What I posted is cookie-stuffing. User clicks on link from Google, affiliate tracking cookie gets set. Cookie-stuffing. That's what it means.

    Separately, there's the question of whether the affiliate intended to do anything wrong. I have no reason to think the FRAME affiliates had anything but the best of intentions (probably even for the affiliate who happened to still have META tags in the header of a FRAMESET page). Each of the three FRAME pages I posted included sentences generally alerting readers to the problem that affiliates may or may not have intended cookie-stuffing; but also being quite clear in explaining that there's more the affiliates could have done to prevent the cookie-stuffing that resulted. The fourth paragraph of my initial 1:03pm post explains these considerations in even greater detail. In any event, I will update the pages to be that much more explicit about this issue and its subtleties.

    I do agree with Kellie's recommendation not to terminate the affiliates at issue. Indeed, that's what I said in my 5:04pm post above: "... I would be hesitant to expire the affiliate."

    So, Evan: I don't "understand that this is not cookie-stuffing." What I've shown is cookie-stuffing. The relevant question isn't whether the net effect is cookie-stuffing. The question is whether the affiliate should be terminated for the practice. Termination, no. But forfeiture of some commissions wrongly earned (via click-throughs from Google that set cookies automatically), perhaps. And fixing their HTML and/or server-side programming system so this can't happen any more, definitely.

  18. #18
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    Ok Ben, that sounds reasonable...I just have to understand exactly what this particular aff was doing on their page so we can contact them and tell them this is not allowed.
    Thanks for all your diligence,
    Evan

  19. #19
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    I'll take some requests this morning.

    Anyone who wants a particular merchant added to the list -- that is, who wants me to make a video and annotated HTML snippet showing an example of that merchant suffering from cookie-stuffing -- please just email me your request/suggestion.

    I'm particularly interested in requests from affiliates who have personal relationships with merchant AMs -- so they can send results to the affected merchants, letting us make sure this information gets to the right place.

  20. #20
    Defender of Truth, Justice and the Affiliate Way
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    Since the framing of merchant links *is* something that has been recommended by many here as one of the few solutions for link protection against both parasites and ad blocking software and the only points for consideration I really recall being mentioned is that the affiliate should check to make sure the Merchant has the privacy policy thing so the cookie isn't possibly blocked in IE 6.0 and they should confirm with the Merchant that the Merchant doesn't have a strict no frames policy, I would really like to know how affs here feel about this one. I don't recall the issue of SE's indexing and the possibilty of being considered as cookie stuffing being brought up as a consideration when using this technique nor that affs should be should to take measures such as no index tags or scripts to detect the traffic arriving vis SE's to use a non aff link to the Merchant instead of aff linking as precautions or stipulations to the recommendation of framing Merchant links.

    Should affs who are using framing of links and wind up with their framed linked pages in SE's be reported as cookie stuffers to Merchants/Networks/community (either publicly 'outed' or privately) and/or have noncompliant reports filed against them? Or there any other factors that should be considered when such pages wind up in Google that should be checked for when considering possible foul play (I know there are a few things I am currently looking for when I see such pages in SERP's currently when I am thinking about foul play)?

  21. #21
    Affiliate Manager AmandaM's Avatar
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    Thanks, Ben, for pointing out this affiliate activity. I will be questioning the affiliate shown as to his methods. Eastwood does have a strict no-frames policy, so if he is site framing (even if he is not cookie stuffing) he is still in violation of our affiliate agreement.
    Update: I have seen this affiliate's actions for myself, and he is blatantly cookie stuffing. I've contacted him and given him until Monday morning to remove the pop-up, or he'll be terminated from our program. In the process, I found 3 other affiliates who appear to be engagaing in the same activity! It's shocking what some affiliates are willing to resort to... and sad, too.
    [size=2]Amanda Moralis
    The Eastwood Company
    [email="affiliates@eastwood.com"]affiliates AT eastwood.com[/email]
    [url="http://www.eastwood.com/jump.jsp?itemID=34&itemType=CONTENT"]Sign-up Link[/url]
    [/size]

  22. #22
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    quote:
    Originally posted by AFP aka Ms. B:
    Since the framing of merchant links *is* something that has been recommended by many here as one of the few solutions for link protection against both parasites and ad blocking software and the only points for consideration I really recall being mentioned is that the affiliate should check to make sure the Merchant has the privacy policy thing so the cookie isn't possibly blocked in IE 6.0 and they should confirm with the Merchant that the Merchant doesn't have a strict no frames policy, I would really like to know how affs here feel about this one. I don't recall the issue of SE's indexing and the possibilty of being considered as cookie stuffing being brought up as a consideration when using this technique nor that affs should be should to take measures such as no index tags or scripts to detect the traffic arriving vis SE's to use a non aff link to the Merchant instead of aff linking as precautions or stipulations to the recommendation of framing Merchant links.

    Should affs who are using framing of links and wind up with their framed linked pages in SE's be reported as cookie stuffers to Merchants/Networks/community (either publicly 'outed' or privately) and/or have noncompliant reports filed against them? Or there any other factors that should be considered when such pages wind up in Google that should be checked for when considering possible foul play (I know there are a few things I am currently looking for when I see such pages in SERP's currently when I am thinking about foul play)?


    What a crock of nonsense!

    Framing is in no way associated with cookie stuffing. The type of framing people are advocating here at ABW is to prevent the cookie stuffers from overwriting their cookie, and keeping the other drive-by parasites from stealing there cookie!

    When you place a frame weather it be an internal script frame or an out script frame, heck or even an HTML frame. You know exactly what you’re accomplishing. If your intention is to stuff a cookie - there is not a single person here at ABW or elsewhere that is not doing it with full intention of stuffing a cookie.

    Kellie I am not sure who your friend is, but either you’re stuck in a bad situation sticking up for this person, or you have been bamboozled! Your comment is starting to sound like Mike and painting all frames as a bad issue, frames are not the culprit, it’s the person who placed the frame who knows the truth of there actions.

    Before I go to far, perhaps I should make myself clear.

    "YOU CAN NOT ACCIDENTALY STUFF A COOKIE”

  23. #23
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    quote:
    Originally posted by AmandaM:
    Eastwood does have a strict no-frames policy, so if he is site framing (even if he is not cookie stuffing) he is still in violation of our affiliate agreement.


    Amanda we had this conversation some time ago, your links refused to work in a clean frame. You have your system set up to not set a cookie if your links are framed.

    If someone is framing your links - they are up to no good!

  24. #24
    2005 Linkshare Golden Link Award Winner  ecomcity's Avatar
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    That old "frame your page" trick was for defeating TOPTEXT years ago. Is that sleezey BHO even in play anymore? Anyone see bright Green or yellow underlined links within there content lately ...LOL. Frames suck! Cookie stuffing Frames suck bigger.
    Webmaster's... Mike and Charlie

    "What have you done today to put real value into a referral click...from a shoppers viewpoint!"

  25. #25
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    From the posts in this thread I become confuse regarding the interpretation of redirect link (automatically cookie stuffing after the end-user arrives to merchant page). If we view the link details provided by CJ, there are four categories that can be simplified into two categories of descriptions on the destination page:

    Category 1: It mentions that,
    Advertiser allows URL redirects for this link.
    Advertiser allows image redirects for this link.

    Category 2: No any description (whether advertiser allows or not allows URL/image redirects for the link)

    Take for example advertisers DentalPlans and The Eastwood Company. DentalPlan is in category 2 while Eastwood in category 1.

    IMO so far for merchant in category 1, affiliate can use redirect on his/her URL to merchant page via Meta tag or JavaScript (not via software or frame). Redirect can therefore also be used in ads on PPCSE. If I am wrong, then what’s the purpose of allowing URL redirect on destination page? Any comments would be appreciated.
    IRS
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