The affiliate marketing industry has been warned to clean up its act – or else – following an international probe which uncovered widespread breaches of privacy laws among firms which allow other organisations to promote their products or services.
A global intelligence-gathering operation by the Unsolicited Communications Enforcement Network (UCENet), involving nine agencies from five countries – including the UK Information Commissioner’s Office – visited 902 websites and also examined 6,536 consumer complaints related to affiliate marketing in their respective databases.
The issues they found included:
Apparent lack of self-regulation: A majority of participants noted that most of the publicly available terms of services between the affiliates, the merchants, and the affiliate platforms lacked appropriate unsolicited communication guidelines establishing what is permissible.
Lack of consent: Some participating countries that have an opt-in unsolicited communication regime noted that affiliates generally do not possess the consent of the consumer to send electronic communications.
Misleading advertising: Many participants noted the prevalence of misleading advertising in the affiliate marketing ecosystem. Within minutes of beginning their research, sweepers were exposed to some form of misleading advertising.
Affiliate marketing platforms: Some affiliate marketing platforms, which operate as a third-party agent handling interactions and payments between merchants and affiliates, have a short lifespan (often less than a year) and conceal their physical location, potentially making enforcement a challenge.
Of the 902 international websites visited during the sweep, 221 were flagged for further action. However, it was not all doom and gloom; the operation also found many examples of good practice in the industry, demonstrating that compliance with laws on unsolicited marketing can be easily achieved.
The UCENet Sweep 2017 was jointly led by the ICO and the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission.
Late last year, the gambling industry’s use of affiliate programmes came under close scrutiny, following raft of negative media stories over the deliberate targeting of consumers on lower incomes, as well as ASA rulings against marketing campaigns.
In 2012, the Office of Fair Trading (now the Competition & Markets Authority) launched its own clampdown on affiliate marketing firms, warning them to ensure product reviews and endorsements running on linked sites are from legitimate customers or face the prospect of legal action.
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