My name is David Zakur, and I am the VP of Products here at Shareaholic. My job is to build the products and services that help our publishers generate revenue from their content. Over the past few days there have been concerns about some of Shareaholic’s functionality as well as our integrity, specifically as it relates to the the Affiliate Links app. We take all your feedback and concerns very seriously, so I wanted to take a moment to provide you with an update and some additional detail and context.
Shareaholic’s ‘Affiliate Links App’ Does Not Hijack Your Links
The app scans pre-existing links (meaning, the links you personally add to your site) on your site, and if that link qualifies for an affiliate program (such as Amazon or eBay), the app adds a simple tracking code to the existing URL. There are many retailer partners involved, so participating does not mean you are entering into an exclusive affiliate program with a single retailer (thus requiring you to make this partnership clear to your readers). An example of this behavior would look like is:
- Pre-existing link: http://www.zazzle.com/Digital-Minds-Things-Business-Marketing/dp/1460230205/
- Affiliatized link: http://www.zazzle.com/Digital-Minds-Things-Business-Marketing/dp/1460230205/?AFFILIATE_ID=12345
3 things that the Affiliate Link app does not do
- Shareaholic and it’s partners do not add new links to your site.
- Shareaholic and it’s partners do not change the destination of the links on your site.
- Shareaholic and it’s partners do not intentionally replace existing affiliate ID’s if you already have one.
Now we all know that no technology is perfect. In the interest of complete transparency, we have had 3 people tell us that they had a link where their pre-existing affiliate code was accidentally overwritten. They contacted us, we informed the partner about the overwriting error, and now those links are not overwritten for our customer or anyone else that uses the link.
Why wasn’t I notified?
Our plugin is installed and active on over 340,000 websites. While the WordPress plugin ecosystem is a great way for customers to find us, the unfortunate reality is that we can’t directly collect each user’s email to contact them unless they sign up for an account with us. This means that we had to make a judgement call on how we get the message out to our customers and how we roll this app out. We didn’t make this decision in a vacuum – we ran tests to see performance, consulted with our partner to see how other large customers similar to Shareaholic managed the rollout, and lastly we consulted with our Beta Program customers who tested the app prior to launch.
Our goal at launch was to actively and clearly communicate these features to our users. We did this through our blog, FAQs, social media channels, and mass email. Just to be clear, we did not keep this release a secret – we want everyone to know about it! Yet, a handful of people have been unhappy with our decision. Some of them have been vocal. Sadly others have even used this as a mechanism for self-promotion without getting all the facts first. The problem is, some of the information that has been shared is incorrect, and we’re doing our best to rectify that.
Where’s my money?
We are not stealing or skimming from your affiliate revenue. As we stated in the Affiliate Link FAQs, you will get paid for the purchases your links facilitate when you add your PayPal email address here. The requirement of PayPal is temporary though, as we have also just partnered with a payment remittance company to offer additional payment methods to our publishers beyond just PayPal (ACH, Wires, etc).
That said, for WordPress plugin users, we realize we didn’t make this clear enough. We are hard at work updating the plugin to make this feature and instructions for adding PayPal more apparent, along with more clearly exposing many other controls right inside the plugin which used to require signing into Shareaholic.com. Being a small company, we definitely make mistakes from time to time, but the good thing is, we can react quickly to them and continue to improve over time based on feedback from our users.
Does Shareaholic compromise my website’s standing with the FTC?
Our understanding is that editorially-motivated links are not advertisements and do not require publishers to include a disclosure on their site. For example, if you have an affiliate relationship with a specific retailer, then you must disclose that, because you are receiving compensation for recommending products on that particular site. For example:
“Let’s assume that you’re endorsing a product or service on your site and you have links to a company that pays you commissions on sales. If you disclose the relationship clearly and conspicuously on your site, readers can decide how much weight to give your endorsement. In some instances, where the link is embedded in the product review, a single disclosure may be adequate. When the product review has a clear and conspicuous disclosure of your relationship – and the reader can see both the product review and the link at the same time – readers have the information they need. If the product review and the link are separated, the reader may lose the connection.” (Source: FTC Revised Guidelines.)
Additionally, the FTC states that they are not targeting publishers but rather the advertisers:
“We’re not monitoring bloggers and we have no plans to. If concerns about possible violations of the FTC Act come to our attention, we’ll evaluate them case by case. If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers – just as it’s always been.” (Source: FTC Revised Guidelines.)
I read that Shareaholic gives others access to my website?
This has been a point of misrepresentation and confusion. To be clear – only a site admin can give someone access to their Shareaholic settings on their website. Currently, when you download the WordPress plugin, and edit your settings while you are logged in to your Shareaholic.com account, it will automatically associate the site to the Shareaholic account you are logged into if the site isn’t already linked to another account.
We didn’t design it this way to be sneaky: we are trying to make it easier for you to pair your plugin with the additional features we offer at Shareaholic.com. This has worked well over time for our Plugin users and we even get asked for this feature for those who don’t realize it is available. One of the things that we learned over the past week is that there are a small population of WordPress/Marketing consultants who are managing multiple sites and therefore have access to their client’s WordPress plugins. The original product offering was not designed to facilitate this type of user – we started as a platform for individual publishers. However, now that we have these customers and know about their requirements, we are in the process of updating the product to meet their needs.
No, Shareaholic doesn’t help you hack into other people’s sites
While it is true that once you associate a client site with your Shareaholic account, the only way to do this is if you already have access to their WordPress Admin. You will need to manually delete it in order to relinquish control over the site, but we considered that part of a trust built between you and the client. That said, we do want to address to this for the handful of users that reported this problem. So as I mentioned above, we’re implementing a confirmation dialog to make sure that anyone who might be entering their Shareaholic account to the plugin is clear that this is happening. That way, they can choose whether or not to make the connection. This update is a response to user feedback (thank you!), but we have never received reports of hacking from the Shareaholic plugin.
So what are you doing to fix all this?
I admit, we aren’t perfect, but we aren’t evil either! We are a small team in Boston who have spent the past years building a product and company that our publishers can use to grow their business. Your feedback has helped us get to where we are today, and we’ll continue to listen and learn from you as we grow. We are working hard to complete all the new features listed above, and will release them as soon as they are ready.
VP, Product Shareaholic