Cookie Stuffing

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Cookie stuffing – what is it?

Cookie stuffing, or forcing clicks as it is also called, is the practice of setting a publisher tracking cookie on a user’s machine when no actual publisher click has taken place.

An publisher sale should contain three steps:-

1. A user visits a publishers site/a site where publisher links are displayed

2. The user clicks on a publisher link knowing this link will direct them to an advertiser website

3. A transaction is made on the advertiser website

Cookie stuffing essentially means a publisher has tried to by-pass this all important second step, by setting publisher cookies without the user’s knowledge, consent or action.

Cookie stuffing can be used by publishers to set tracking cookies in the background while a user is browsing on the internet, or set additional tracking cookies when a publisher link is clicked. This will lead to an advertiser paying publisher commissions even though the user that has made a purchase has not interacted with a publisher link.

The practice of cookie stuffing has been largely eradicated from Awin, however there are publishers who still try to force clicks, particularly in conjunction with adware packages that serve ads to a user based on their browsing habits.

This type of cookie stuffing is often linked to pop-ups/unders, which appear out of nowhere and display random sites that users will normally close down without so much as a second look. What users do not realize is that the random site has probably loaded a publisher tracking cookie related to the advertiser website they are currently browsing. When they make their purchase, commission for their sale will be credited to a publisher who has had nothing to do with their purchasing journey.

Some publishers even try to load publisher tracking cookies when their site/page loads, even before the user has had a chance to look at the sites content!

How to spot cookie stuffing

It is important that advertisers recognise the signs of a publisher who might be forcing clicks. They include:-

• Abnormally high conversion rate (using adware to drop cookies when a user is already looking for an advertiser usually leads to a high conversion rate)

• Abnormally low conversion rate (this could indicate a publisher is dropping lots of cookies, hoping that some of this traffic will purchase from the advertiser)

• Poor site quality (advertisers should always ask the question, how is this publisher promoting me? If the site is poor quality yet is generating lots of traffic then they should be investigated)

• Re-directs as referring pages (A lot of publishers cover-up click forcing by using HTML redirects on their pages. An analytics package can give you details of the pages used to referrer your clicks and sales. Check these thoroughly, and if these links resolve directly to your site then seek further advice)

It is easy to spot cookie stuffing using the Firefox browser. Simply follow these easy steps:-

1. Go to Tools, Options, Privacy and then click on Show Cookies:-

2. Scan down the list of domain folders and delete the one marked ‘awin1.com’. This removes all Awin tracking cookies from your machine. If you can’t find any ‘awin1.com’ cookies don’t worry. It just means you haven’t clicked on any of our publisher links recently. Once this step is completed close down the ‘Cookies’ window.

3. Now type the url that you suspect of forcing clicks into the browser and visit the site. 4. Once the site is fully loaded re-open the ‘Cookies’ window by clicking on Show Cookies. Check to see if any awin1.com cookies have been added to your computer. If they have, then the site you just loaded is cookie stuffing. It has forced a cookie to set on your machine without the need to click a publisher link. 5. Contact and then suspend this publisher from your programme until they have removed the offending page/site. You should also inform Awin incase further action is needed against the publisher.

Iframes and cookie stuffing

An iframe is a HTML frame that is sometimes used to display another HTML page. This page can sometimes be another website.

Iframes can be used to force clicks, whereby a publishers page also loads the advertiser's site within an iframe. At the same time a tracking cookie is set on the user’s machine. This is a form of cookie stuffing as the user is never asked to engage with a publisher link before the advertiser's website is displayed.

If you notice a publisher site that contains an iframe of a advertisers site you should contact Awin for further information.

Vouchercode sites and cookie stuffing

Many vouchercode sites use a system called ‘click and reveal’. This sets a cookie when the user chooses to view a voucher code on the site. At the same time the advertisers site opens, usually in a new window.

This should not be confused with cookie stuffing. When the user activates a link knowing that the link will direct them to the advertisers site or open a new window containing the advertisers site then it cannot be classed as cookie stuffing.

Privacy

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