Click Farming and Cookie Stuffing - How Not to Get Rich Quick !
Affiliate marketing is a form of internet business practice which has made a lot of people a lot of money. Of course, since I like money as much as the next guy, I decided to look into it.
This report is based on a few of the things I found out in my research.
Affiliate marketing is an Internet-based marketing practice in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought about by the affiliate's marketing efforts.
Affiliate marketing—using one website to drive traffic to another—is a form of online marketing, which is frequently overlooked by advertisers. While search engines, e-mail, and website syndication capture much of the attention of online retailers, affiliate marketing carries a much lower profile. Still, affiliates continue to play a significant role in e-retailers' marketing strategies.
Just how lucrative is affiliate marketing ? Here's what one industry web-site had to say in 2006 -
Affiliate Summit 2006 Wrap-Up Report -- Commissions to Reach $6.5 Billion in 2006
The Ethics of Affiliate Marketing
Online Marketing Service Providers Announce Web Publisher Code of Conduct
Code to Establish Fair Business Practices in Pay-for-Performance Advertising
NOTE: The Publisher Code of Conduct has been updated since this release. Click here to read the latest Code.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Dec. 10, 2002 – Three of the leading service providers in performance advertising and affiliate marketing today issued a Web publishers' Code of Conduct to guide practices and adherence to ethical standards for online advertising. The code is the result of several months of work by the group -- made up of Be Free, Commission Junction and Performics -- and seeks to address the concerns expressed at an industry summit held in New York City on Nov. 7, 2002 on the subject of fair practices.
PUBLISHER CODE OF CONDUCT
The following actions, practices and conduct, whether active or passive, direct or indirect, are prohibited:
Interference with referrals. No Web publisher ("Publisher") or software download technology provider ("Technology Provider") may interfere with or seek to influence improperly the referral of a potential customer or visitor ("End-User") to the Web site of an online advertiser ("Advertiser"). No Publisher or Technology Provider will automatically replace or alter any component of a Service Provider's technology that results in a reduction of any compensation earned by another Publisher. For example, a Publisher or Technology Provider may not use methods or technology to automatically replace a Service Provider's tracking identifier of another Publisher with its own Service Provider's tracking identifier or otherwise intercept or redirect an End-User from being referred by another Publisher.
Five years later this original code of conduct was updated. Sections pertinent to cookie-stuffing are cited here -
Preamble to Commission Junction's Code of Conduct
Updated May 9, 2007
In December 2002, Commission Junction (a service provider) released a Publisher Code of Conduct to guide practices and adherence to ethical standards for online advertising. The original preamble to the Code of Conduct acknowledged that fair business practices produce optimum results for online consumers and all parties participating in online pay-for-performance advertising and affiliate marketing programs. In particular, fair business practices are important to the continued vitality of online advertising and the continued availability of advertiser-supported content.
When using the service provider's technology to obtain credit for publisher referrals, the following actions, practices and conduct, whether active or passive, direct or indirect, should be followed.
Interference with referrals.
No Web site publisher or software download technology provider may interfere with or seek to improperly influence the referral of an end-user to the Web site of an online advertiser unless the end-user knowingly and explicitly consents to that behavior by taking an affirmative action.
Notification of Redirection.
Publishers must explicitly notify the end-user of any redirection performed by a software download technology to a participating advertiser site. The publisher must also disclose to participating advertisers the URLs and/or keywords which trigger auto notification and/or redirection and receive consent for such activities. The implementation of software application functionality requires that:
- The notification be easily understood by the average end-user
- Any settings for automatic notification and/or redirection must be explicitly opt-in
- Instructions on how to uninstall/deactivate must be provided
- Such software must not be objectionable to the advertiser
Non End-User Initiated Events.
Publishers may not use methods to generate non end-user initiated impressions, clicks, or transactions. All click events must be initiated by an affirmative end-user action. Consent of software installation and acceptance of an end-user License Agreement that includes a disclosure that the software will perform click events on the end-user's behalf for the benefit of both the end-user and the publisher who owns the software, is considered an affirmative end-user action.
A Walk on the Wild Side
Shady Web of Affiliate Marketing
The biggest annoyance on the internet is not the guy trying to sell you a knockoff watch or prescription painkillers, it's the marketing scheme that rewards spammers who drive customers to his site.
Affiliate marketing, a system in which a business pays a commission to those who drive paying purchasers to its website, is responsible for much of the spam that clogs inboxes, search results contaminated with useless pages selling ring tones, and a never-ending barrage of pings and fake TrackBacks that have driven many bloggers to shut down comments on their sites.
The system allows individuals and other businesses to become freelance marketers for a company and generate income from individuals following links on websites or in e-mails sent to them.
What are some of the common techniques used on the wild side?
Predominantly these days a technique called cookie-stuffing seems to be the most widely-practiced technique. This practice is proscribed in the Pblishers Code of Conduct already cited above.
What is Cookie Stuffing?
Cookie stuffing or cookie dropping is a blackhat online marketing technique used to generate fraudulent affiliate sales. It involves placing an affiliate tracking cookie on a website visitor's computer without their knowledge, which will then generate revenue for the person doing the cookie stuffing. Income is generated when the affected user visits the target affiliate site and either creates an account or makes a purchase, depending on the terms of the affiliate agreement. This not only cookies, essentially stealing their legitimately earned commissions.
One way to follow the rules, at least in a technical sense, is to fill a room, virtual or otherwise, with people who are payed little or nothing at all and simply have them start clicking on lots of paid referral links to advertiser's sites.
These operations, which have the potential of generating significant income for those at the top of the click-farm food-chain, are called in the vernacular of the internet techno-weenie, Click Farms.
What is a Click Farm?
The click farm is made up of armies of low paid workers who’s job is to click on links, surf around the target website for a period of time, perhaps signing up for newsletters and then to moving on to another link. It is very hard for an automated filter to analyse this simulated traffic and detect that is it invalid as it has exactly the same profile as a real site visitor.
Although these operations may technically be legal, the defensibility of their eithical basis is quite another kettle of fish -
... click farms are a product of an increasingly global economy where earning a few US dollars a day [or even nothing at all] for relatively easy work is much sought after by third world workers. The people in the developing world making a few dollars a day are not to blame, rather the gang lords organising and collecting the fraudulently obtained money are the real villains. They are not some modern e-Robin Hood, taking from the rich 1st world corporations and giving to the poor, they are organised crime syndicates taking from the rich, throwing a few coppers to the poor and getting rich on the loot.
Following is a tounge-in-cheek description, ludicrous by hyperbole, of just such a click-farm operation set not up on land but on a ship a sea, presumably to circumvent the restriction limitations and inevitable penalties of a land locked legal system.
Click Monkeys!!™ employs a state of the art line of site net access system. We own a light house near San Jose with the equivalent of five T-3 lines worth of bandwidth running to it. The light house is equipped with two dozen microwave transmitters that are pointed at the H.M.S. Click Monkey. The transmitters are kept on target using a GPS system that is centered exactly on the on board transmitter.Even if the Click Monkey were to drift by 3 miles from her stationary position in the roughest weather, our monkeys can still keep clicking on your site!
Of course this article would not be complete without a some advice for all those who have been patiently reading through to this point seeking information about how they can become successful in the highly lucrative business of internet affiliate marketing.
What are the different types of cookie stuffing?
Image stuffing involves putting an image on a forum or a website. The image will show a red X in IE when sucessfuly stuffed. When a user is not being stuffed the image will display. In Firefox the user will not see a red x or the image when a user is stuffed but when the user reloads they will see the image. The IMG code usually does NOT blank the referrer in FireFox, so most stuffing scripts do not stuff FireFox when blanking the referrer option is turned on. This means that while stuffing forums you should blank the referrer and not stuff FireFox, but if you are comfortable not blanking the referrer from a website you can stuff FireFox users.
My guess is the image would look something like this -
Avoiding the Pitfalls
Based on decades of personal experience, this writer realizes the average reader of this article is probably a lot smarter than he is, and if this writer has been able to locate all the information cited above, then the average reader will no doubt be able to do just fine on their own without any further help from me.
So, in closing then, not a word of advice, but perhaps one of caution will suffice -
[On Setting Up You Own Affiliate Program]
Not including ActiveX controls will make people much more likely to use your site. Likewise, do not let your site become a 'cookie farm'. A site that loads a visitor's computer up with a heap of tracking cookies will not be popular.