Cookie stuffing is an unscrupulous marketing technique that is not accepted nor supported by most reputable affiliate networks. Essentially, it’s an act of fraud that lets people earn illegitimate commissions without doing any honest work. Also known as “cookie dropping,” it is a controversial tactic, and while reputable affiliate networks might not take part, less ethical networks have been known to participate.
How Cookie Stuffing Works
When Internet users click on an affiliate link from a website, a cookie is placed on their computer. That small cookie file is used to give credit to the website owner if that user should make a purchase. With cookie stuffing, multiple third-party cookie files are placed on the user’s computer. These cookies are tied to random products and merchants, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with the page that the user was originally viewing.
Because multiple cookies are downloaded, the user will receive personalized ads for things that they weren’t even interested in. Should they end up making a purchase for one of those items, those cookies will give credit to whoever placed them on the computer.
Here’s an example of how it might work:
- A user visits a website that’s participating in cookie stuffing.
- Even if the user doesn’t click on any ads or affiliate links, the website forces the user’s browser to load images or 1×1 pixels that are linked to affiliate sites.
- This causes the affiliate sites to drop a cookie onto the user’s computer.
- Later, if the user makes a purchase on one of the affiliate sites, the cookie stuffer gets a commission, even though they didn’t actually refer the user.
Why Cookie Stuffing Is Unethical Or Unscrupulous
The purpose of cookie stuffing is to generate revenue. By dropping their affiliate cookies onto as many computers as possible, cookie stuffers increase the chances that they’ll earn a commission. However, this practice is considered unethical and is against the terms of service of most affiliate programs. It can also be illegal in some jurisdictions because it involves deception and can infringe on users’ privacy.
The problem with cookie stuffing is that no real work was done to market a product. The fraudster who dropped those cookies will get commissions for sales that they had no part in making. To the merchant or company providing commissions, that sale looks like it came from a legitimate affiliate link. However, in reality, the user never even saw an affiliate’s website.
Advertisers or affiliates might resort to cookie stuffing out of greed or desperation, but it’s a short-sighted strategy that can lead to severe consequences, including being banned from affiliate programs and facing legal action.
Internet users can fall victim to cookie stuffing from a wide range of sources. The cookies can be downloaded from normal websites, pop-up ads, secret scripts, and even images on a forum. As mentioned earlier, the act is frowned upon by most affiliate networks. There have even been cases of companies working with the FBI to catch these cookie stuffing operations in the act, leading to hefty fines and jail time.
Can You Do Anything About It?
If you suspect that a website is involved in cookie stuffing, you can report it to the relevant affiliate program or advertising network. If you’re an affiliate marketer, the best way to protect yourself is to follow ethical practices and avoid engaging in or supporting cookie stuffing.
As a web user, some of these steps can help keep you protected:
- Regularly clearing your cookies
- Use a browser that blocks third-party cookies
- Use privacy-focused browser extensions.
It’s also a good idea to only visit websites that you trust.
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