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Affiliate programs and spam

It is a known fact that affiliate spamming has existed for almost as long as the online affiliate marketing industry itself. However, there is still one big question on the matter that remains unanswered - who is to be blamed.

The question of to what extent are merchants responsible for the actions of their affiliates was highlighted in 2002 when two internet giants tried bringing the battle to court:. AOL Time warns American online accused Netvision audio text of causing damages through its spam activities.

The terms of the settlement that was reached included Netvision audio text (which as well as operating a network of subscription based adult web sites does business as Cyber entertainment network and net management corporation) having to pay significant monetary damages as well as agreeing to a permanent injunction barring it from sending unsolicited e mails to American on line members.

The most interesting thing about this case is that this injunction was placed also above the heads of 40 of the company's affiliates as well.

This may seem unfair if you believe that it is solely the merchants fault and therefore problem at the end of the day but many beg to differ: As Netvision may have argued- the firm has very little control over the activities of it's affiliates- even with a strict anti spam policy it is extremely difficult for them to keep track of these activities.

Affiliates might send unsolicited bulk email which include advertising subscriptions for some merchant site- including sign up links for that merchant without the merchant ever knowing how it's users reached them.

When a merchant goes into business with affiliates it should certainly double check all the information the affiliate gives when it signs up- but once the affiliate is signed up and 'out there' the merchant does not have power to monitor their activities all the time.

However, In the case of America on line versus Netvision audio text the offended party claimed that Netvision did have control or were at least aware of its affiliate's activities and should therefore be held responsible.

AOL accused Netvision of conspiring with its affiliates to send spam to millions of AOL members, arguing that an adult Website operator can be held responsible for negligence and the hiring of webmasters as part of an affiliate program.

AOL formed the basis of its argument using its policies concerning bulk email. These policies forbid companies to use its system in order to receive send or distribute spam from the web to AOL members.

Federal laws exist in Virginia and Washington State which allow networks like AOL room to take action against anyone disrespecting their anti spam policy and making unauthorized use of their system illegal.

Although in the end an agreement was reached before it reached court and therefore no new legal precedents were made the whole case may have serious consequences for merchants and affiliates as partners in the crime of spam.

Netvision and other webmaster programs are going to have to enforce certain policies on their affiliate webmasters. Policies which if are not regarded will hold Webmasters accountable in court. Troubling news for affiliate managers, even those who wish to traffic their cause through less intrusive means.

Spam therefore is resented also by affiliates themselves who employ legitimate marketing efforts. It is seen as damaging to the effectiveness of their business on the net.

Like AOL these affiliates also lay the blame on the merchant and its affiliate program manager for lowering the standard of affiliates working on the merchants behalf and allowing disreputable web sites to join. These of course give a bad reputation to all the industry and make it more difficult for those who want to take their business seriously.

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