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3rd party toolbars a hot affiliate topic

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Sunday February 1, 2009 )

Thanks to the extensibility of browsers such as Firefox, independent developers can now create all sorts of useful browser addons – and some rather nefarious ones that cause affiliates headaches. ShareASale, a highly respected affiliate network, is about to debate the 3rd party toolbar issue.

Earlier this week, I wrote about an ongoing debate I’ve been having with the creators of a Firefox extension based on a popular ad blocker that has disturbing similarities to stealware. It doesn’t just block ads, it replaces them with its own. You can read more about the saga here and the followup here.

Brian Littleton of ShareASale believes that 2009 “will see a great increase in the number of toolbars implemented throughout various affiliate and/or merchant sites. Due to the increase in installations of Firefox extensions as well, these toolbars will have varying levels of interaction with the user and will pose various levels of difficulty.”

ShareASale is one of the better affiliate networks out there and I’ve always been impressed with their communications. Unlike some networks, they really do seem to care about their publishers and merchants; regardless of their size.

Up until now, ShareASale hasn’t allowed affiliates into their network that promote via toolbar-type software due to the possibilities of it interacting with pages to the point of overwriting content – and other affiliate’s cookies. It’s been a very good call in my opinion as publishers shy away from networks that permit the possibility of stealware making its way in with the network’s blessings.

However, Brian has recognised that some toolbar vendors *are* indeed ethical and their toolbars do not seek to siphon revenue from other web publishers in such a way. ShareASale will be hosting a “Toolbar Roundtable” to discuss the possibility of allowing such vendors in as affiliates or merchants.

Brian has suggested a few important conditions if these vendors were allowed to participate in ShareASale’s network – and one of the most critical in my opinion is:

“we will aim to disallow the practice of a toolbar modifying any content of that web page.”

According to Brian; there’s a distinction between ownership of content on a website, vs. ownership of a browser and it his opinion at this point that “that content of a webpage belongs to the person who created that content”

Amen Brian; and I hope these guys take heed as they develop the business model for their questionable Firefox extension. It’s challenging enough to succeed as an affiliate without having to deal with losing revenue via stealware – even if it is done under a warm and fuzzy guise.

Online business ethics isn’t about what you can get away with and while I have no problem with someone turning a dollar, it’s how they make it that counts.


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