I don’t spend a lot of time on here getting political (er, or really, much time on here at all these days – sorry! I have a good excuse.*) or pontificating but sometimes it’s unavoidable. As an avid Pinterest user, I’ve been keeping tabs on the whole hubub about their terms of service in the last few weeks but didn’t really feel the need to add anything. I get companies’ needs to protect themselves from litigation over the actions of their users beyond their control, and although the image ownership details are pretty shady, I’m more in the camp that believes that if you choose to post content on the internet you can’t complain when people find it and share it. I look at this kind of viral image-spreading as free marketing/editorial coverage, and like it when I find my photos elsewhere because it means people are finding what I’m doing interesting and worthy of sharing. My sales increase as people discover me this way– it’s one of the great beauties of the internet. For example, I recently came across a photo of my Folded Salt and Pepper Cellars in the iPhone Etsy app. Like most people I rarely bother to read the fine print for websites (to my detriment, I’m sure), but I’d wager there’s a clause very similar to Pinterests’ on Etsy’s website that allows them to do this. Did it bother me? No. I felt proud to be representing something so big in such a public way- hopefully it will compel a few people to find me and support my work. However, I don’t make money off my images specifically but the products contained within them, so I’m biased. Anyway, this isn’t really about this debate of Pinterest anyway. It’s about two other things related to the quiet monitization of their website that I found out this week that are making me consider pulling myself off of it entirely.
First, I read this week that Pinterest has begun modifying links to products that people post to their ‘affiliates’ in order to get a cut of the transaction if someone ends up buying the product after finding it on Pinterest. I have a real problem with this if it means they are going to alter where the link goes from a small independent boutique to, say, Amazon. It’s unclear how much altering is going on since Pinterest has not disclosed this practice nor commented on it – par for the course considering their lack of response to the uproar over their terms. Remodelista does this in their marketplace, but they tell you, and it’s something I don’t have a problem with because it means it keeps their awesome website going. I know that it’s basically inevitable that if something is popular a way will be found to make money off it- it’s the lack of disclosure over this practice that I find to be a betrayal to the end user.
Secondly, and also related, is this week I was approached by a company called Hardpin, which I can find very little information about online beyond their vague website. They proposed a pretty straightforward cost per click system like many online ads, but on Pinterest. When I expressed surprise that I had seen no ads on Pinterest, they responded that the beauty of it was that NO ONE WILL KNOW you paid to be posted by one of their “influencers” with hundreds or thousands of followers. Now, I’ve worked in marketing and design for years, I have no real objection to advertising itself, my problem again lies with the fact that it’s not disclosed as an ad. It invalidates the entire democratic concept of Pinterest. And is that even legal? Promoted ads on Twitter have to be labeled, and even ads in magazines designed to look like an editorial have to be labeled as an advertisement. if I’m going to be sold to, I want to know about it. And it makes me suspicious of the content being posted by anyone on there with a huge following. Does it make the products they are posting any less cool, per say? No. But if I’m going to be helping you pay your bills by clicking or re-pinning your links, it only seems ethical that you’d let me know the motivations behind the pin. It stops being about love and starts being about money.
I’m just Grossed. Out. I feel like by ignoring the rights of the people who make their website work in the first place they are not only taking advantage but treating us like imbeciles. What we don’t know won’t hurt us, right? This issue is of course small in the current climate of no-accountability in the banking industry, congress and beyond, but it doesn’t make it any less wrong. I’m sick of being outright lied to, or being told half-truths, in the name of commerce. And if you actually made it this far, you get a gold star.
*Beyond the recent studio move, my husband (that’d be Ryan in customer service) and I are welcoming a baby boy to the world in June. Pregnancy has slowed me down a bit but you can still find me throwing and designing, it just takes an awful lot longer. Some of the less crucial details have hence slipped through the cracks, like blogging and saying hi on Twitter and Instagram. Now I just need to figure out how early we can get him behind the wheel to make this a truly family business. That’s a joke. I’m not really into child labor.