Some Pinterest Users are Learning the Price of Free

Unless you control your content (say, with a blog at a domain name you control), you could find yourself learning the hard way why all these services you think are free, aren’t.

Almost three years ago, to the day, I blogged about Pinterest users (and users of other social media platforms) understanding the reality that if you use a platform controlled by someone else, you are a hamster in their cage (a metaphor I first learned from Dave Winer).

The post I wrote three years ago, “Just Because You Can Make Money From Something, Doesn’t Mean You Should, and Other Rules of the Web,” was about Pinterest being accused of “skimming links” — the practice of finding links on their platform  that go to ecommerce sites and converting those links to affiliate links in order to generate commissions from those ecommerce companies.

As I wrote then, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that practice. However, I did object to Pinterest taking the additional step of hijacking links its users had made to a user’s affiliate accounts.

At the time, when Pinterest was still on its way to world domination, the company backed off the hijacking practice, not wanting to offend all of its hamsters.

Yesterday, WSJ.com reported that Pinterest is, once again, now removing “all affiliate links.” Pinterest told WSJ.com it has been automatically removing affiliate links for years but had allowed some exceptions that were “maintaining good quality.” (By several years, they mean sometime after three years ago, as they backed off the practice of hijacking affiliate links during that earlier dust-up with users.)

Beware, those who may tweet affiliate links, or use an affiliate link when posting something on Facebook or Tumblr or Flickr, et al. Unless you control your content (say, with a blog that uses a domain name you control), you could find yourself learning the hard way why all these services you think are free, aren’t.

Suddenly, you’ll understand the hamster metaphor.