March 4th, 2010

altivo blink

The secret is out and it's not pretty

Apparently LiveJournal has been using custom JavaScript code to modify some links on user pages dynamically when they are clicked. The action replaces the "affiliate ID" value in the link with another value. This doesn't affect all such links, but only those on a specific list of providers, including, apparently Amazon and EBay. The intent of this action isn't clear, though it seems likely that the purpose was to harvest any commissions that would otherwise have been paid by the linked site back to the provider of the link. Whether the collected fees were going to LiveJournal itself or to some other party is not clear at this time. The link alteration is done in a stealthy manner, so as to be almost invisible. Details and links to more discussion here.

There is a configuration command (undocumented, as often seems to be true with LJ) that will disable this operation for your own page and for any LJ links you click on. That is described in the additional documents linked to the Slashdot article above.

This is a pretty slimy act if in fact it is true. I haven't bothered to try confirming it myself, as the proof is complex and depends on a better understanding of JavaScript than what I have. However, many users have now confirmed that the changes really are taking place, and some who were Amazon partners say their link activity has suddenly dropped to zero according to Amazon.

If this wasn't a deliberate, policy based action by LJ management, then it seems likely to be a clever hack inserted by individuals in the coding team or someone with illicit access to the code base. Given that LJ has no policy statement forbidding such "partnership" links, a unilateral action to disable them seems questionable at best, and to my mind is a violation equal to the privacy violations Google committed a couple of weeks ago in their heated reach to grab market share away from Facebook and Twitter. (The Google Buzz cockup is now well and thoroughly dIscussed elsewhere.)