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Hijacking affiliate links 
4th-Mar-2010 02:32 pm - Hijacking affiliate links
Skittish Eclipse
I've been given a heads up that has done some excellent sleuthing and investigation into hijacked LJ affiliate links:

What is LJ doing to my links?
What is LJ doing to my links? Part 2
What is LJ doing to my links? Part 3

Expect this post to be update through the day as I find out more and come up with a good summary.

ETA: No good summary, but I feel like I should say code got taken down, etc etc, business as usual.
Comments 
5th-Mar-2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
how is it a slur? i am honestly asking because i would really like to know.

i am just baffled by all the people on here who either did not read the tos, or somehow think that it is acceptable to have not read the tos (there are people in this thread actually supporting the idea that reading the tos of anything is a waste of time or otherwise not necessary) when in the tos in several sections it very clearly spells out that you should not be using lj for your own personal profit. sure, in many cases toses are top-heavy with legalese, but it's not that hard to figure out that "the service" is always referring to lj, etc, they aren't using very deep legalese that is somehow incomprehensible to normal english speaking people. i just don't understand why people would admit to doing stuff that goes directly against the rules in a thread where ljabuse and support are obviously watching.

is this whole code change thing shady? sure. but it is well-within the rights lj has reserved for itself, and really breaks nothing other than services which were banned or otherwise against the rules to begin with.
5th-Mar-2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
I don't believe that posting affiliate links is against Livejournal's TOS. You have quoted language from the TOS talking about banner ads; those are not the same thing. Your argument that users were violating the TOS and shouldn't expect any sympathy as a result, just doesn't hang together. Nobody promised not to post affiliate links on Livejournal.

However, if Livejournal agreed with your interpretation and thought, correctly or incorrectly, that posting affiliate links were a TOS violation, then they'd have treated it as one - by just removing the affiliate IDs, and/or punishing the users who tried to post such links. That's not what Livejournal did. What Livejournal did was to add its own affiliate links, without telling the users and indeed with some effort (the code obfuscation) to prevent users from finding out. The priority was on putting in Livejournal's ID, not on taking out the users'; indeed, it's been claimed that they didn't even know they were taking out the users' IDs. Livejournal wasn't responding to a real or imagined TOS violation; they were doing something quite different.
5th-Mar-2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
oh, i agree, it is super shady the way they went about it. but my point is, they are perfectly entitled to do this with their service, and in numerous parts of the tos they spell out that they may in fact at some time do this.

and as for the tos thing, this is one of the situations where it might be good to speak fluent legalese (absolutely not making a slur on you) because you may have not noticed this line where they CYAed:

Engage in commercial activities within LiveJournal or on behalf of LiveJournal without prior approval. This includes, but is not limited to, the following activities:
Displaying a banner that is designed to profit you or any other business or organization; and
Displaying banners for services that provide cash or cash-equivalent prizes to users in exchange for hyperlinks to their web sites.


this means that yes, they specifically mentioned banner ads, but that line about includes but is not limited to infers that any commercial activity in lj is banned, affil links, etc included. now, if this went to court, lawyers could make the case that the economic activity happens offsite, however its a pretty classic case of advertising fosters sales so i doubt that would stick.

this in no way means that i think lj will *do* this, rm affil links, etc. that was never my point. my point is that, all thoughts of community, etc, aside, lj covered this situation several times in the tos that everyone agrees to abide by when they sign up. it is not lj's fault that people skimmed over these sections. so yes, the deployment of this is incredibly shady, but technically you all signed up for this from the get-go.

5th-Mar-2010 06:19 pm (UTC)
Section XIV of the TOS includes the statements "All Content posted to LiveJournal in any way, is the responsibility and property of the author." and "LiveJournal claims no ownership or control over any Content posted by its users." Those could be argued, with strength equal to your present claim, to forbid Livejournal from modifying links posted by users except by blocking them entirely. By your logic, having clearly broken its contractual obligations, Livejournal now entirely deserves absolutely any action whatsoever that users may care to take. They broke their OMG LEGALLY BINDING CONTRACT!!!! Note, too, that since they wrote that contract themselves, none of the "But we didn't know we'd agreed to it!" excuses one might invent, can be applied to Livejournal.

Ultrabroad interpretation of contracts, to the exclusion of any other bounds on behaviour, doesn't work. Seth Finkelstein said it in more detail better than I could.
5th-Mar-2010 06:16 pm (UTC)
It's kinda on the edge--if it was really aggressive I wouldn't have unscreened it at all. (For instance, there's a reply to this comment already that isn't going to be unscreened, because it's more aggressive.) If you want an example of a way to phrase it that isn't towards the personal, one instance would be more like "I don't think people should sign contracts without reading them--or use sites without reading the TOS"--putting it back into the realm . I know the difference seems trivial, but it helps make a difference here in the land of no_lj_ads-wankavania to make things a little less heated.

However, LJ (like every other (esp free) service on the internet) puts things in its TOS that give it really, really broad ranging implications, that they never intend to use--on purpose. For instance, "LiveJournal also reserves the right, without limitation, to resell any portion of a user's LiveJournal back to that individual" along with other clauses means LJ could lock up every single journal's contents, and not give the contents to the person until that person paid LJ $100 dollars! (Or, if the user preferred, just deleting the content.) I mean, sure most everybody would complain, but according to the TOS LJ is totally within their rights and technically we all signed up for it. But the clause wasn't meant for that; it was meant more so that things like LJ's deal with Blurb could work.

I think this is kind of a less extreme example of that, in that those sections of the TOS weren't designed to prevent people like elisa_rolle from making some book buying money every month. She's a paying member, she's contributing positively to the site with her content, yadda yadda. They don't want to TOS her--as you can see from the staff reaction here and in news, they presumably didn't even want to replace existing affiliate ids to begin with. They're probably more designed to make sure that the site isn't a haven for people spamming or making money at the expense of the system or trawling communities or abusing the system--and they don't want to have to waffle with someone about what's considered abuse when they do decided to act.

They also probably don't want to be considered responsible for any perceived lost income--which applies here, in that I doubt they're going to make much if any restitution like people are clamoring for, heh. I've been TOS quoting people about that one myself.

Edited at 2010-03-05 06:35 pm (UTC)
5th-Mar-2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
i definitely definitely understand about tone. i wasn't thinking of anything other than my own inflection in my head when i wrote it, which was more actually questioning and trying to compare.

i also understand about tos stuff, but my point was more like, if we are going to be getting all morally superior here, it is probably good to understand that we were already in the wrong. there are many things that are unenforced in the world legally speaking in many situations. but that doesn't mean that that it automatically means that whatever we decide the interpretation of that is going to be ok. i am trying hard to make my point here without in any way being taken as sarcastic, but it's like trying to have your cake and eat it too. everyone knows jaywalking is illegal, but everyone does it. when the cop writes you a ticket and you go complain before the judge about it, the judge just says, "look, it is illegal. the application still stands despite the fact that it is rarely enforced." i don't think lj will care about some amazon affil links, or links to download a pdf of your own book, or whatever small scale profit that people might get from their ljs, i think everyone knows that that stuff is really in there to be used against spammers, etc. but my point is to all of the people demanding that livejournal do all of this work to see if they lost profits. livejournal doesn't *owe* them anything, and just because they choose to turn a blind eye to that kind of use, doesn't mean that what those people were doing was in the right to begin with.

i just hate when people don't realize that in thinking they were cheated by a system they actually were technically cheating a system first. two wrongs dont make a right, etc. and often people get so caught up in their being wronged, that they don't realize that there can be a viewpoint that what they were doing was wrong to begin with. not that i wish these people ill or that they lose all their money. i would hope something could be resolved that can make everyone happy. but if not, i wanted to point out a possible legitimate reason why there may be another outcome.

also, in another comment where i was saying the same thing to someone, i put the captcha word into the subject field on accident. it wasnt meant to be abusive, i just was tabbing and typing too fast and hit enter reflexively before i could erase
5th-Mar-2010 07:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for understanding about the tone thing. (My previous comment is so full of sad errors from my spacey cold-inflicted head! I even stopped in midsentence there while explaining) I think all I thought about "gashing found" was "What does that even *mean*", ha. Damn the captchas! If only NLJA didn't get enough Google juice or whatever the heck it was that made it so attractive to the spammers.

I can't say I think of it as cheating the system so much as...not actually being entitled to make money from the system, but in most ways I agree--although I think the person you were originally responding to in this thread was only upset on idealogical grounds, if I remember correctly; I don't think they've been posting affiliate links.

If LJ was starting to enforce the policy like that (or had in previous practices been acting closer to that definition--ie, saying that affiliate links are not in line with our TOS in Support Requests about them as opposed to the malware standard issue answer), and said that nobody should post affiliate links at all, then I think your description would be more accurate. In a lot of ways, LJ's rights are the ones it claims for itself when people complain, and given current staff response, replacing affiliate IDs with LJ's isn't one of them.
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