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CJ Updates The Code of Conduct

On May 9, 2007, CJ updated the Code of Conduct with little fanfare. Indeed, I’m not sure if they even made any type of announcement about the update. An announcement might have been made through the Publisher interface if you are logged into your CJ account, but I can’t verify if they did or didn’t do that since my CJ account was terminated a couple of weeks ago. But that’s another story. There’s seems to be very little talk about the updated Code of Conduct (COC), so either many are not aware of the change or people don’t care about the change. The changes are interesting and abiding by the COC is part of the Publisher TOS, so it’s probably a good idea to be aware of the changes.

The first and most obvious change is the name change from the Publisher Code of Conduct to the Commission Junction Code of Conduct. Unlike the earlier Code of Conduct, this update appears to apply only to CJ and not Performics. It is no longer a collaborative endeavor between major affiliate networks. This COC also shifts away from addressing practices by “technology affiliates” (aka adware affiliates) and addresses conduct for other publishers as well. This version of the COC goes even further to address Advertiser practices as well. So while the original COC, and later updates, specifically addressed how affiliates using adware should behave, the newest version is expanded and removes the focus from adware affiliates.

Areas addressed for Publisher Conduct now include the use of trademarks/copyrights/brand names, incenting users, use of tracking technology, e-mail marketing, promotion on sites not owned or controlled by the publisher and transparency/disclosure.

Areas addressed in the new Advertiser Code included down tracking (I thought tracking was never down??), timely data transfer for merchants who batch, disclosure of trademark/keyword policies, lead flipping or resale (this one is interesting and makes me wonder if CJ is moving towards “subaffiliate” advertiser offers), disclosure of conditions and/or restrictions which would negate a publisher’s commissions such as competing channels, catalogs and coupons (really now..duh!..seems rather prudent from the legal standpoint), illegitimate reversals and publisher recruitment (it’s somewhat interesting to see this area addressed in the COC as well).

Did anything change with regards to adware affiliates? Yes. It’s probably good for both Publishers and Advertisers to understand what has changed.

“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 …”

This is the first thing CJ states about adware affiliates conduct and it sounds pretty good. This is basically what was said in earlier versions of the COC. CJ has added something new to the end of that sentence:

“….unless the end-user knowingly and explicitly consents to that behavior by taking an affirmative action.”

That’s a pretty big UNLESS. This is a trend I’ve been talking about for a good while now and I suppose it’s good that CJ has come out and said this is the view they are taking. I don’t agree with the view, but here it is in black and white per CJ. What CJ is saying is the if an adware affiliate can get the end-user to knowingly do so and consent to the behavior, then the adware affiliate CAN interfere with or seek to improperly influence the referral of an end-user to the Web site of an online Advertiser. Affiliates and Merchants…read the above paragraph again. Now read it a third time. If they can get the end-user to agree to it, they can improperly influence referrals to a Merchant. Lovely isn’t it? And I’ve seen more than one adware application do just that thing. Maybe CJ let the adware affiliates know the deal before the rest of us with this updated COC.

When CJ states an adware application/affiliate is compliant, understand what compliant means by CJ’s standards.

One of the big changes to the earlier update of the COC (July 2004) centered around “forced clicks” (aka Non End-User Initiated Events in CJ lingo) being prohibited. That clause remains (although the previous references to “invisible” methods have been removed). However, some additional verbiage has been added which dilutes the forced click prohibition. While “all click events must be initiated by an affirmative end-user action”, this doesn’t mean each click event requires an end-user affirmative action. CJ views affirmative end-user actions as accepting the EULA (with disclosure that the software will “click” for the end-user on behalf of the publisher) and consenting to the installation. Of course this also goes back to the first clause I mentioned with regards to non-interference except with affirmative action by the end-user. What does all that mean? The adware affiliate can engage in forced clicks as long as they disclosed it in their EULA and the end-user agreed to the installation.

An adware affiliate still isn’t supposed to alter, change, substitute or modify the content of another publisher’s Web site, so that’s some good news. Although there haven’t been many applications which do that for quite some time now. There is one I know of offhand that changes the Merchant’s site however, but that isn’t addressed in the COC. Technically and resource-wise it’s easier to just target the merchant’s domain and then do one of those end-user approved, affirmative action obtained sometime in the past forced click. So there’s really no need to change or modify another affiliate’s website.

CJ finishes up with verbiage about the ease of installation/uninstalls and that the end-user should be able to completely uninstall the software. I think it’s a shame there is a NEED to even say that!

Adware affiliates are supposed to let CJ know anytime they update their software or patch the software….yes I’m laughing hysterically at the moment considering how often some software updates itself. But the question becomes does CJ have a system in place to make sure they are being notified or is it on the honor system? Additionally, end-users are supposed to be notified and opt-in to any updates. Now I’m laughing really hard, because I’ve NEVER seen that happen that I can remember. Have I seen this yet since May 9th when the new COC was updated? No. Am I holding my breath to see it in the future? Not really. But it’s there in writing, so I have to ask what does CJ have in place to monitor whether or not adware affiliates are complying with this clause? It’s a bit amusing to poke fun at CJ’s COC, but it is important for Advertiser’s and Publisher’s to understand exactly what they agreeing to when they participate in the CJ Network. It is important to understand exactly what CJ is saying is allowed and compliant behavior.

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