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See the activity here: http://stackoverflow.com/users/1071887/idan?tab=activity&sort=revisions

Notice that most of the edits are simply adding that user's affiliate code to iTunes links.

It's a clever trick to try and get their code embedded into other people's apps.

I have reverted a few but there are so many. Can this user be deleted and all edits reverted? These edits are certainly not adding any value to the SO community, and I suspect are in violation of the terms.

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Wow, that account needs to be burninated. This is a case for a moderator flag. –  Pëkka Feb 9 at 14:59
And he has also some answers that should be removed for the same reason. –  ProgramFOX Feb 9 at 15:07
@ProgramFOX oh, missed the answers! Going to have a look now... –  Shadow Wizard Feb 9 at 15:15
I think you really took that out of proportion making all community to attack me. Hope you are happy now. –  Idan Feb 9 at 18:25
@Idan you chose to edit-spam your affiliate link multiple times - so you brought this on yourself. –  user246806 Feb 9 at 20:22
Popular precedence could make dictatorship on actively trying people (e.g. to get out of ban) and others of course. But let me describe my case. I've spent much time reading how to get out of ban. I just want to work. Why I'm not legal. Smth of mine is good including other resources (much worse than SE, of course). So you could put someone from active people into focus and make reputation on him and one that pointed the banhammer would be very pleased and get satisfaction of tortures. I'M NOW AFRAID of any activity (because of this bad precedence being set very handidly). –  Xsi Feb 10 at 11:47
@Amaterasu Pay attention that some of the answers are now incorrect because of removing the affiliate, so not you just banned me but you have reduced the quality of the answer. For example pressing this: itunes.apple.com/album/id318390146 or pressing this: itunes.apple.com/album/id318390146?at=012345 (it's not my affiliate I promise) gets a different result (would not open store on Mac for example) so OS behaviour is different and now incorrect. –  Idan Feb 13 at 10:36
Working links here: 1) itunes.apple.com/album/id318390146 2) itunes.apple.com/album/id318390146?at=012345 Sorry. –  Idan Feb 13 at 10:44
@Idan can you link to the answers you believe legitimately need an affiliate code? Such answers could include a discussion on the effect of adding such a code. –  William Denniss Feb 13 at 11:03
@WilliamDenniss I think all basically. It is pretty simple: From an app you can post to any social media so it would be properly that if the developer would want to users to get the store immediately (no matter which OS the target user is using) and not waiting for webpage and then expect target user to press it he should use the affiliate code. I assume I should have probably add some disclaimer about that so if developer didn't want this option he would remove it. I think it include the app codes and the link to link maker which would produce the "better" links. –  Idan Feb 13 at 11:15
@WilliamDenniss I can write a detail post about that explaining how it would affect users eventually (maybe when I'll be out of ban). But it would be a lot longer than could be in a comment. Just to be clear I'm not willing to add/change any post ever till I fully understand it is/what is considered ok here... –  Idan Feb 13 at 11:20
@Idan: You make money on affiliate links when people buy something. THAT IS THE ONLY REASON TO INCLUDE AN AFFILIATE LINK. It does not make the link work any better or worse. –  staticx Feb 13 at 13:22
@Idan I did not get you banned - YOU got you banned, as mentioned above, affiliate links make you money, which is why they are not allowed. I did not edit your posts (not even a member of SO), but would have gladly edited the affiliate code out if I were. Understand this, affiliate links are NOT allowed END OF STORY. –  user246806 Feb 13 at 18:41
@Amaterasu As I explained. Those links are for code and change the link behaviour (open the store directly) and not direct link to content. therefore improve the quality of answers which are now have less value. –  Idan Feb 13 at 19:43
@Idan you are not fooling anyone - affiliate links = money for you = not allowed on this site and has been mentioned - will be edited out. Nothing you will say will convince me otherwise (nor many other members). –  user246806 Feb 13 at 20:32

3 Answers 3

up vote 39 down vote accepted

A critical hit with the ban hammer has been dealt to the user. Unfortunately we don't have any way to bulk-revert edits - so anyone who's helping in rolling back those edits will get a virtual cookie from me.

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Thanks. A 7 days' suspension seems way too soft for the criminal energy on display here, though. I'll write to the community team and petition that the account be terminated (not to spite or second-guess your decision, but I guess terminations would be handled by the community team anyway) –  Pëkka Feb 9 at 15:11
@Idan I think the problem is moreof you were replacing working links with a link with your affiliate id. It didn't improve the quality of the answer at all. –  hichris123 Feb 9 at 17:23
Those weren't "mistakes". They were deliberate actions. –  Pëkka Feb 9 at 17:33
@Idan I'm siding with Jeff Atwood in his answer to this question. Affiliate links are spam. Continued posting of affiliate links should lead to a temporary ban. Editing your own affiliate ID into other people's answers should result in immediate account termination, IMO. –  Pëkka Feb 9 at 17:45
@Pëkka - While I appreciate that people strongly oppose what was done here, they have enough of a history that I'm willing to hear them out. We reserve forced deletion of accounts for clear sock puppets or spammers with no other redeeming value. They clearly are not an account created only to spam, and if they've learned from what went wrong and won't ever do this again, I have no problem with them continuing on the site. Account deletion or suspension isn't there for punishment, it's to make sure that bad behavior stops immediately. I'd much rather educate than ban. –  Brad Larson Feb 9 at 17:46
@Brad I see where you're coming from, but I disagree in this case because it's so easy to imagine this kind of stuff slipping under the radar. A 1-week suspension is a signal to jokers like this guy to try and see whether they can get away with it (and let's face it, that's what happened here. Editing your affiliate ID into someone else's 5 years old answer a "mistake"? The result of being "tired"? Give me a f-ing break.) I don't think the worst you should have to fear in such a case is a slap on the wrist. –  Pëkka Feb 9 at 17:55
@Idan I do not disagree your track record so far looks fine. Whether that's an excuse for what you did, while knowing full well what you were doing, is a different question. (It's not my decision either way.) –  Pëkka Feb 9 at 18:01
The fact that you came here and defended yourself, in a constructive way, is a good sign, @Idan. Most spammers don't. That doesn't take away from the fact that you did spam, and I think Pëkka's response is justifiable. But thanks for showing up here. –  Michael Petrotta Feb 9 at 18:23
"Banning me and using my edits and original answers but removing the affiliate" - did you just admit that you added those affiliate IDs on purpose to get more than just reputation from your answers?! –  ThiefMaster Feb 9 at 18:33
...and now you're making things worse, @Idan. You are a spammer because you have spammed repeatedly. There is no question about this fact, Idan. Accept this, apologize, stop lashing out, and move on. Maybe you didn't understand this as spamming until today (I'm not sure I believe this, but it's possible). Well, now you do, and you understand that this is considered abuse. Right? –  Michael Petrotta Feb 9 at 18:35
There is absolutely no way one - let alone a 3000 rep user! - could edit a question with the sole purpose of inserting an affiliate ID into it and somehow not know this was a major breach of the rules. –  Pëkka Feb 9 at 18:41
When would an affiliate link ever be needed for a post to make sense? PS: the post you refer to explicitly states it is not allowed to add affiliate links. In summary, no affiliate links in answers, even if the answer is otherwise good, useful, etc. –  Jeroen Vannevel Feb 9 at 18:48
Here is it again from a mod: Affiliate links are a no-no. –  ThiefMaster Feb 9 at 18:59
Legit, to add affiliate links to your own content, @Idan? No, I do not. It's hard to express why, in a short comment, but quickly: we should keep the financial incentive out of the site. No "$20 to write me a script". No "here's a link to my ad-supported blog on every answer". No affiliate links. Money tends to drive sites in bad directions, and incentivises the wrong behaviors. You get crummy questions, slanted answers, and a really bad taste. –  Michael Petrotta Feb 9 at 19:20

This situation could not have arisen with Amazon affiliate links, since the Stack Exchange software automatically rewrites them to use Stack Exchange's own affiliate code.

Given this precedent, would it not make sense to extend this feature to also automatically strip affiliate codes from links to iTunes, and to any other popular websites with an affiliate program (e.g. eBay)?

Doing so would:

  • eliminate any incentive for people to try to inappropriately sneak affiliate links into posts, whether their own or others',

  • eliminate any risk of good-faith users being accused of spamming just because they happened to include an affiliate code in their links, and

  • if the links were changed to use an SE affiliate code, possibly earn Stack Exchange a bit of extra money with which to keep the site up and running.

That sounds like a win/win/win situation to me.

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How big is this of a use-case except to clean up the mess caused by this user? –  Jan Dvorak Feb 9 at 22:36
@JanDvorak: That's a good question. It would be interesting to see how many existing posts with iTunes affiliate links there are on, say, SO, but I'm not sure how to figure that out. Maybe by downloading and parsing a data dump? In any case, the fact that one user tried this and got caught does suggests that, sooner or later, someone else is likely to have the same idea (if they haven't already). –  Ilmari Karonen Feb 9 at 22:59
I've quickly tossed together data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/166293/… and did find a very few older posts that contained affiliate IDs in them (the query is light enough you can do an entire year at a time). Do note that this doesn't identify things that have been cleaned up in the past as they were found - so while I only found a very few, there could have been quite a few more that were edited out. –  MichaelT Feb 9 at 23:49
@MichaelT: Thanks! You might find a few more if you also looks for &at= in addition to ?at=. –  Ilmari Karonen Feb 9 at 23:57
In this specific case, the affiliate id was added to code blocks (not to clickable links), where the editor seemed to be hoping that the id would somehow end up in the source code of whoever used the snippet. (I don't know what's to gain there, but for me trying to get into someone's source code is even worse than adding it to some clickable URL.) I'm afraid that automatically changing code blocks will result in a lot of errors. –  Arjan Feb 10 at 17:30
@Arjan: Good point. If all the edits were indeed to code blocks / backticked code, then my proposal would not have actually helped here. You're right that we shouldn't be auto-mangling URLs that are not actually links; the existing Amazon rewrite doesn't, either, and that's a very good thing. –  Ilmari Karonen Feb 11 at 0:53
@IlmariKaronen What if removing the affiliate code make the answer wrong? What if behaviour of OS is going to be different by that. Is that illegal also? –  Idan Feb 13 at 10:52
@Idan: If showing the affiliate code in the URL really was an important part of an answer, one could always e.g. wrap the URL in backticks to de-link it. (Even then, it would be good form not to use a real affiliate code, but instead write something like, say, https://itunes.apple.com/album/id<album_id>?at=<affiliate_code> with placeholders for the code and ID.) –  Ilmari Karonen Feb 13 at 12:56
To get an affiliate ID you need to do some progress. I believe it's easier just to use that, if the user have his own he would probably change that to his... –  Idan Feb 13 at 13:00

Let's take the whole spammyness of the affiliate links out of the equation, and what this boils down to is just vandalism. Vandalism on any of our sites will quickly get you suspended or shown the proverbial door, so we highly recommend not doing that, or anything else, that intentionally lowers the perceived quality of our combined work.

Don't trigger on just seeing an affiliate link of some kind - some sites give you sharing buttons automatically encoded with affiliate information even if you're not part of the program, and folks don't even realize what they're pasting - they just think it's a link.

Trigger on the perceived intent when it comes to vandalism. If the person is doing it serially, and it's hard to argue that they aren't aware of how inappropriate such a thing is, then we will take very swift and decisive action. But, that's up to the moderators and us, the community team.

Remember that the whole point of suspension is to get problematic behavior to stop, and suspensions should last precisely the amount of time needed to make that happen. I don't want to get into territory where we set up mandatory 'sentencing' for different kinds of infractions.

However, I will say this, if you deliberately and repeatedly vandalize one of our sites, you're going to have a pretty hard time convincing us that you should be able to access them at all beyond reading, and we've got pretty comprehensive facilities in place to make that happen.

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I've purged comments under this answer because I really don't need the hassle of users calling one another morons flying through my inbox. Please, take my advice and just drop it. Thanks. –  Tim Post Feb 13 at 13:01

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