Is affiliate tracking a privacy violation?

yegg Staff yegg
Created: 7 years and 4 months ago
For example, amazon. If an affiliate code were to be inserted that paid DDG for purchases made through DDG, would that be a privacy violation?  We had a bit of discussion about this here:

My previous thought was yes, but now thinking through it I think there is a distinct case of whether you go through a third party or not, and also it matters what info is sent. That is, if you have a third party handle it and they see your personal info, then that is a violation. If there is not a third party (just Amazon and DDG) then that becomes a lot less of a violation, I think depending on what is seen.

The data piece is that if you just see a check and no personal information, I'm not sure that is a violation. Anyway, would love to know your thoughts.

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I can't think of a situation where adding an affilite code and thus telling Amazon where the user came from would have negative effects.
posted by [Old Forum mrmagical] • 7 years and 4 months ago Link
I think it would be a great idea to give this a try. I agree with Mr. Magical, I couldn't think that it would be that big of a deal to tell Amazon that the purchase came from DDG.

I would much rather have something along the lines of this than (Google / Bing / Yahoo style) advertising.
posted by [Old Forum guest] • 7 years and 4 months ago Link
OK, I'll give it a try and see if it brings in any revenue. I need to update the privacy policy first, however. I was thinking of adding the following--sound OK to everyone? Revisions welcome :)

--It would go under the 'Information Collected', underneath this paragraph (so you have context): "We also save searches, but again, not in a personally identifiable way, as we do not store IP addresses or unique User agent strings. We use aggregate, non-personal search data to improve things like misspellings."

Similarly, we may add an affiliate code to some eCommerce sites (right now just Amazon) that results in small commissions being paid back to DuckDuckGo when you make purchases at those sites. We do not use any third parties to do the code insertion, and we do not work with any sites that share personally identifiable information (e.g. name, address, etc.) via their affiliate programs. This means that no information is shared from DuckDuckGo to the sites, and the only information that is collected from this process is product information, which is not tied to any particular user. It is completely analogous to the search result case from the previous paragraph--we can see anonymous product info such that we cannot tie them to any particular person (or even tie multiple purchases together). This whole affiliate process is an attempt to keep advertising to a minimal level on DuckDuckGo.
posted by yegg Staff7 years and 4 months ago Link
I like this idea.  Amazon already knows that a link click came from DDG via the referrer (even with the search term cloaking via redirect), so using a referral code doesn't really give them any additional information. It does give us DDG fans an easy way to financially support DDG (even a little).
posted by [Old Forum guest] • 7 years and 4 months ago Link
I made this live as a test, so feel free to make your Amazon purchases through it!
posted by yegg Staff7 years and 4 months ago Link
anonymous has been replaced with .com with UK as regional setting. I know you have to eat an all but I have no $'s :(
posted by [Old Forum anphicle] • 7 years and 4 months ago Link
Hmm---this is unintentional, but I'm not seeing it. If I change my region to UK and do !a test I get sent to
posted by yegg Staff7 years and 4 months ago Link
yegg, I appreciate so much that you posed this question....

I've been watching DDG for years now, and every once in a while I reconsider whether I'm finally ready to make the switch. The two biggest sticking points have been the questions of ...
1) Will the results quality compare acceptably with Google's?; and
2) Will I be able to work around the origin referral leakage created by the affiliate codes?

Regarding #1, I intend to log my search queries over the next 30 days so I can come back and do real-world comparisons to better answer this question. In the past I've tried to come up with searches off the top of my head and never really felt it made for good comparisons. Anyway, now that DDG is serving me Yahoo rather than Yandex results, I'm more confident on this point.

Regarding #2, while I think it's fantastic that you've implemented this additional revenue source which shouldn't cause any DDG-to-affiliate leakage for most of your users, it doesn't take into consideration the fact that some users disable or spoof referrers, which means that the affiliate codes are providing affiliates with information they wouldn't otherwise have. I do sometimes buy from Amazon, and I might be lead there from a search, but I'd prefer Amazon not be able to tie my real-world identity with my choice of search engine. Not that I'd be ashamed to use DDG, but I prefer to provide only the information necessary to use a particular service. This is why Amazon gets my name and address, while DDG would get my search queries. Each party gets some very personal information, but only the information necessary to use their respective service.

I hope DDG will consider offering a preference to disable the affiliate codes. This would help to accommodate the needs of users who choose to hide their true referrers, and, if the option were explained clearly (i.e. that it's only useful for such users), shouldn't have much effect on revenue from that source.
posted by <hidden> • 1 year and 5 months ago Link
Hello and thanks for the comments. I think that it's important to note that you have responded to a 5 year old thread, so much has changed since Yegg posted this information.

Anyway, now that DDG is serving me Yahoo rather than Yandex results, I'm more confident on this point.
As has been stated by Yegg and others, DDG has used Yahoo! as one of it's sources since the beginning. DDG used results from multiple other sources including Bing, Yandex and others (in fact, this was one of the reasons that date filtering was so difficult, because the various sources provided dissimilar data formatting).

Regarding the how DDG currently works with affiliates to generate revenue, please read: and also .
posted by x.15a2 Community Leader1 year and 5 months ago Link