Regarding this Pinterest Affiliate Link Kerfuffle

It seems a great number of people have whipped themselves into quite a frenzy over what Pinterest does with links that are posted to its servers. The really funny part is that this kind of thing isn’t new and the people who are mad about it are, in typical Internet fashion, jumping on the bandwagon (sorry, but t’is true).

No idea what I’m talking about? Here’s a quick summary.

Many online retailers offer affiliate programs — ways for people to earn a commission if they refer a customer. Amazon is an easy example; if you add ?tag=nerdgap-20 to the end of an Amazon product page URL, then I’ll get a small commission if you buy anything after clicking that link. Easy peasy.

Each time a user adds a link to Pinterest, the service will examine the URL, determine if it can add the company’s affiliate code to it somehow and, if it can, it does. After that, anybody who clicks through a modified Pinterest URL and buys something will earn the Cold Brew Labs folks a little bit of cash.

The reason everybody’s crapping their pants over this is because, ostensibly, they didn’t disclose that they were doing this. I have three problems with this position:

  1. They’re a free service. For most free services, everybody and their mother will publicly flog the founders of the company for not having a way to make money (aka, a “monetization strategy”). Pinterest has one. I don’t think it’s a great one, personally, but it has one.
  2. This trick has been around for a long, long time. How do you think all of these online wishlist managers work? Do you think they pay for servers, bandwidth, electricity and engineering staff with pixie dust and liquorice whips? Pinterest is hardly the first company to do this and they certainly won’t be the last. Hell, anybody with a WordPress blog can install a plugin that does precisely the same thing.
  3. They actually do disclose that they are doing this. It may not be as clearly spelled out as people would like, but it’s there. From the oft-ignored Pinterest Terms of Use page:

    By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, 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.

Just to recap, people on the Internet are mad at Pinterst for:

  • Making money without charging people directly
  • Employing a web trick that’s just about as old as dirt
  • Disclosing that they are employing said trick in their Terms of Use.

Good on ya, Internet.

(Full disclosure: I don’t use Pinterest.)

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