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Pinterest secretly swaps links for profit


(CBS) - Social vision board site Pinterest has taken the Internet by storm, but new allegations of link swapping may tarnish the company before it gets out of beta.

The invite-only site lets users "pin" photos to a virtual image board. Its easy user interface makes the site extremely addictive.

Although still in open beta, Pinterest skyrocketed in 2011 and even surprised the industry at the speed of its growth. TechCrunch reported that site attracts 10 million monthly unique visitors in the U.S. alone. It isn't all gravy for some loyal users, however.

The affiliate marketing blog GTO Management noticed that links were being changed without notice to members. Instead of going to a user's link, Pinterest is swapping out the links to the benefit of its partner Skimlinks.

"I discovered that a pin that linked to one of our merchant clients was swapped out for a Skimlinks affiliate link," Joel Garcia said in a blog post. Garcia repeated this experiment a few times with varied results.

According to social media blogger Josh Davis, Skimlinks automatically goes through a site and converts affiliate links, so that it will point to its own.

Josh Davis

The problem isn't that Pinterest is trying to monetize. The problem is that users are left in the dark.

This is especially troublesome for organizations using Pinterest to promote their products. Davis explained that "if the store has an affiliate program, it is highly likely that those links now will have an affiliate code in them that gives Pinterest a percentage of any sales."

Davis pointed out that monetizing without using ads has appeal when considering the user experience. However, lack of disclosure is definitely an issue.

"With respect to FTC rules on disclosure of affiliate links, the law is that any content creator that is *endorsing* or *recommending* something and obtaining financial benefit as a result of this endorsement, needs to disclose it," Alicia Navarro, chief executive officer of Skimlinks, wrote on Davis' blog.

"In this case, Pinterest are not pushing people to buy something because they get paid for it, they provide a platform that drives traffic to retailers and they are being rewarded for providing that service."

Pinterest did not respond to a request for comment.

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