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Browser Privacy Options and Firewalls Threaten Affiliate Future
ad-based publisher content being served for free

 4:46 pm on May 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

Attention All Affiliates!

Your income is under attack and many people are taking a free ride on your web sites.

The affiliate industry is probably on the verge of a major shake-out as new technologies are increasingly blocking more banner impressions and further interfering with cookie tracking. These various technologies are all ushered in under the guise of "privacy" and everyone agrees that internet privacy is a valid concern. However, privacy concerns are now making a publisher's right to earn money from their content take a back seat to privacy hysteria which threatens the livelihood of many smaller publishers. The net result is lower affiliate revenues and merchants getting a partial "free-ride" off affiliate programs hosted on innocent publishers sites.

Worse yet, the uneducated privacy concious web surfers don't even realize their actions could jeapordize the very free sites they may use daily and depened on for their information!

Technologies directly impacting affiliate programs:

- 3rd party cookie blocking.
- Options to autopurge cookies daily, weekly, monthly.
- AdAware purging of valid "tracking cookies"
- FireFox blocking 3rd party images
- Norton firewall blocking banner servers
- Pop-Up blockers

Banner blocking is at least a level playing ground as the neither the publisher, affiliate service (CJ, LinkShare, etc.) or the merchant profits from lost impressions. However, when a browser blocks a cookie from a valid banner impression it allows the merchant to profit from affiliate impressions without paying for the affiliate service provided.

3rd party banner blocking can easily be thwarted by loading the banners from the publishers web site instead of from a 3rd party banner server. The banner images can either be copied to the publishers server or server side technology can be employed to "download" the image on the fly to track impressions on the affiliate server. However, now that we've displayed the banner and bypassed the blockers this still doesn't solve the bigger problem of getting credit for lost sales due to discarded cookies.

It's obvious that the weak link in the chain is the cookie and there are some methods that could be employed to detect blocked cookies. This situation is obviously causing the renaissance of CPC and CPM programs which are now primarily text ad based like AdSense and AdBrite which only count the click or impression and don't need any further cookie tracking.

What's the solution?

Possibilities include:

- Serving images from the publishers server instead of the affiliate server

- Automatically suspending access to content when cookies are actively blocked

- Soliciting companies that make cookie blocking and discarding technology to distinquish between
"white hat" and "black hat" cookies and let us keep our 30/60/90 day referral cookies.

- Charge access to content sites as an ad-free alternative for cookie blockers

Maybe the current technology is just too limited and vulnerable to sustain the future of affiliate programs and it's time to move on as the blocker technologies force it's demise.

Hope this gives you some food for thought and would love to hear other's opinions on this topic!



 5:00 pm on May 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

"Maybe the current technology is just too limited and vulnerable to sustain the future of affiliate programs and it's time to move on as the blocker technologies force it's demise."

So you're saying the affiliate industry is doomed?


 5:28 pm on May 11, 2005 (gmt 0)


You mention screening for cookie blocking/3rd party image blocking...is there a way to detect that, and if so, is there a browser call that can initiate turning them on for your site(s) only by prompting the user to click on something that would define the users want for cookies to be able to access the website? I'm sure there is a way to do this, but I do not know it...I've already sourced some techie friends of mine, but they could take awhile to get back to me.

Let me know if you know a way to pre-load scan for this sort of thing.

Also, what would be the best approach in serving the ads yourself without the affiliate programs complaining about not being able to count the impressions? I've tried this technique in the past and was regularly questioned about how I was serving my ads followed by the threat of cutting me off.

As for my opinion on all of this:

I think it sucks. Too many people are promoting fear of the cookie and the advertiser. Browser technology needs to get smarter and more affiliate friendly. It is not only costing us revenues we deserve, but also costing 1000s of companies revenue. Obviously I care about my pocket most, but it is a shame to see standard affiliate cookies being blocked. I am disappointed about the FireFox image blocker. I am an avid FireFox user, and have even promoted them in the past. I still use it, but the fact that they are blocking ads is frustrating, especially something touting opensource. They should really be promting the next wave of "True Protection" browsers, but this just seems like they are going the path of "Block Internet eCommerce People." If it wasn't for affiliates and site users promoting them, they wouldn't be where they are today.

Ok, enough ranting. Thanks for the informative post.


 6:25 pm on May 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

So you're saying the affiliate industry is doomed?

I really feel like my revenue stream is under attack when I see a lack of ads on many desktops.

I'm saying affiliate programs are on the verge of some very serious problems if something isn't done. It's currently viable (marginally in my opinion) but many companies seem to be bent on destruction of the affiliate industry, maybe not directly or even intended, with privacy products sold hyping internet security.

My affiliate banner impressions are down as a total percentage of my page impressions from last year so I know fewer and fewer people are seeing the banners in the first place due to banner blockers.

Consider that both FireFox and IE 6 have built-in pop-up blocking now and pop-up ads are virtually a dead industry.

Now imagine what would happen if the future IE 7 has 3rd party image blocking like FireFox?

I think affiliates would take a major hit overnight.


 7:31 pm on May 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

Now imagine what would happen if the future IE 7 has 3rd party image blocking like FireFox?

I doubt it. Many of Microsoft's websites like MSN and Hotmail run image ads so they would be shooting themselves in their foot if they started blocking image ads.

Microsoft AntiSpyware also doesn't delete affiliate cookies so there is maybe still hope for us all ;)


 7:57 pm on May 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

I doubt it. Many of Microsoft's websites like MSN and Hotmail run image ads so they would be shooting themselves in their foot if they started blocking image ads.

I don't agree as Microsoft, like Norton, could create either a whitelist or blacklist of server sites and you know the MSN/Hotmail ad servers wouldn't be affected by default as they would be known "safe" ad servers.


 2:04 am on May 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

It's like the age old battle of arms vs. armor.

I leave Norton Ad Blocking running on my machines not so much to block the ads, but to check my site.

You can get somewhat ahead of the blocking game by cloaking your affiliate links. You take something like a click counter so that the url on the page is not the affiliate url. The click counter transforms it when someone clicks.

I spent a lot of time looking for an ad serving app. The problem is that almost all of these produce links that the ad blockers kill.

In addition to the ad blockers, there is the parasite issue. We're getting killed from both sides.

Almost any solution will require some programming and may be rendered ineffective at any time.

I've noticed that some of the larger companies on the web (newspapers and radio sites) are getting a lot better at getting their ads through. However, a lot of them don't get it. I see some of the management from a very large local paper at our business meetings. I keep telling them to check their site out under norton because their ads arent' getting through. I don't think they have undestood yet.


 2:26 am on May 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

Part of the problem as I see it is that the general public doesn't understand the issue. And it's kind of a paradox, because most people who truly understand AM from the inside out are usually in the biz. It's almost like a secret society asking for protection at the same time as they claim not to exist. I suppose that's a bit extreme.

Your average Joe couldn't care less about any of this. He doesn't know who is making money on the Internet... he just figures it's all big companies selling products, and of course adult sites.

Until the past year I was semi-aware of what AM was, but I had no idea what it was really all about. I had no idea there were so many players, and I am still in awe at how much money is out there floating around. I was under the impression that the Ebays and Yahoos of the world made 99.9999% of all the money on the net. And they probably do, but that's before they pay the middlemen for those dollars.

When you think about it, wouldn't the perfect world be one in which there was no AM? Doesn't it make economic sense that the merchants should be paying for content rather than paying AMers to create content and then take a cut of the profits?

And if the general public did understand all the dynamics of eConomics, they still might not be sympathetic. They're not likely to be able to tell the subtle differences between white hat and black hat. To them, all advertising on the Internet is spam.

Another difficulty is the whole founding principle of the Internet, that it's free and it opens boundaries and makes life easier, blah blah blah. I think the vast majority of people honestly believe that the Internet is just a fuzzy little place where nerds run rampant spreading the joys of their sophisticated html or whatever. When, in fact, the Internet is hardly about freedom. It's just a new media which is in the midst of a struggle to determine who will capitalize it.

When's the last time you found a blog without advertising on it?

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