Let me rephrase that: LiveJournal has done something REALLY fucking stupid.
Links to about 150 e-commerce sites that users post to their LiveJournals are being redirected through a 3rd party website. These redirected links also open in a new window.
Among other things, this redirection strips any existing affiliate links and inserts a different affiliate link.
I first heard about this from my sister. At first, I wasn't having the problem she was talking about, but I poked around some more and finally figured out how to get it to happen on my end. If I click on this link: GlutenFreeBay.com (a website containing gluten free recipes) while logged out of LiveJournal, the link pops up in a new window and doesn't appear to be gluten free recipes at all. Instead, it takes me to eBay.
These links are being directed through something called "outboundclick.net." From what people have been able to deduce, this redirection is triggered by certain keywords in the URL such as "buy" and "free."
This is a huge, huge problem, LJ. It's sneaky, it's dishonest, and it's a violation of our privacy.
Why else is this a problem? It is potentially stealing revenue from LJ users. My band, Chief Bromide, will hopefully have our album available for paid download within a month or so. Hypothetically, if the URL that our album is hosted on has one of those trigger words, the link I provide to you guys will be directed somewhere else entirely. Let's say I've got just five people who aren't logged into LJ and want to purchase our album, but can't because they've found themselves over on eBay. That's $50 my band just lost. If it's ten people that can't get to the album's page, that's $100 my band just lost.
Another shady hypothesis: I know that in the past people have set up affiliate links through websites like Amazon to benefit specific charities. Let's say someone has recently set up one of these affiliates to benefit Haiti or Chile. Their charity affiliate link is stripped and another one is substituted. Instead of Haiti or Chile getting the funds, LJ or this outboundclick.net company does. *slow clap* Classy.
This is happening to free accounts and paid accounts, so I wouldn't be surprised if it's happening to permanent accounts. I pay LJ to not have ads on my page, and they've gone and snuck them in there without me knowing about it.
Fortunately, there is a way to opt-out of this. However, the opt-out is incredibly obscure, the change was never announced in the first place, and the fact that there is an opt-out at all tells us that this is something that LiveJournal purposely put into their code, and they never told us about it. Edit #4: Also, the opt-out means shit to people who aren't logged into LJ. URLs are still redirected, and affiliate codes are still stripped.
The collection of links from people who know more than me and say things better than I can:
- atara: LiveJournal's Stealth Redirects - Where I first heard about this; why this is a breach of privacy.
- shatterstripes: What is LJ doing to my links? - provides the code itself that triggers the redirect, and a list of websites that outboundclick.net services.
- shatterstripes: What is LJ doing to my links? Part 2 - follow-up to the previous post; the redirect also adds in an affiliate to the end of certain URLs such as Amazon. This is another way LJ is blatantly stealing revenue from its users; it strips any current affiliate code and substitutes its own.
- caffeinepuppy: Privacy Alert: LiveJournal Tracking Outbound Links! - directions on how to opt-out.
- Also of interest is the support request that shatterstripes opened a few hours ago. It hasn't been answered yet, but I honestly would not be surprised if this ticket goes private.
- Edit: Tampering with affiliate codes is a violation of Amazon's ToS.
- Edit #3: shatterstripes: What is LJ doing to my links? Part 3 - A website named "Driving Revenue" seems to be the... er, "driving" force (that's my incredibly bad pun, not theirs).
Yes, LJ. Opt-out or not, this is a fucking problem.
Edit again: I'm sorry to say this, but the more I think about this whole deal, the more I start thinking that this is probably the biggest fuck-up LJ has ever pulled. Yes, I do mean to say that this is a bigger fuck-up than Strikethrough/Boldthrough ever was. LJ is stealing money from their users.
Edit #5 (I think... I lost count): I've contacted LJ about this via Feedback and our user rep kylecassidy. I don't suggest contacting Kyle about this since he's confirmed he's aware and is waiting for a response from LJ, but I do suggest spreading the word and being loud at LJ. (This is how the internet works, dudes. Be loud.)
Edit #743: Instead of a public response concerning this issue, LJ made a news post tonight that doesn't mention this problem at all. *facepalm* I'll let the timing of that speak for itself. marta (the amazing) and astronewt (another member of LJ staff) have been going through some of the comments of the post addressing this issue: here, here, and here are a few responses from them. marta has also addressed the issue here.
The general explanation seems to be what I expected: the code didn't do what it was intended to do.
kylecassidy has received a response from LJ on the matter. The code is in the process of being pulled tonight.
However, this raises another sticky question: what was the code intended to do?
This is less shady than what it was doing before, but they did still apparently sign on with a 3rd party website to generate more revenue, and then implemented the code without checking to see exactly what it would do. This is worrying for more than one reason.
I'll continue updating this post as I find more info since everyone appears to be linking to it... *waves at all of the strangers passing by* ... but I'm done for tonight 'cuz I don't feel well and I'm going to bed. :P
Edit #8,888: See above strike out; the code is apparently not completely gone! Comments made from users here and here are still being redirected from GlutenFreeBay.com to eBay.com (or eBay.ca, in one user's case) even after the code was pulled. I have absolutely no idea why some users are still having issues and others aren't, though atara theorizes here that a code push may have just not reached all of their server clusters yet.
In any case, I really am going to sleep now, and we'll see if people are still having problems when I wake up. G'night, folks.