So, last week you heard that Uber and Lyft drivers were going on strike across the country and around the world and you wanted to know more. You Googled and selected The Guardian’s article on the strike because like left-leaning people across the Anglophone world you trust The Guardian to offer sympathetic coverage of drivers’ grievances and demands.
As usual, The Guardian doesn’t disappoint. Until, that is, you click on any of the five links to those everything-but-what-drivers-really-want perks at the end of the article. That’s when you’ll find yourself landing on Uber’s driver recruitment page. Go ahead and see for yourself if you really must — but be warned that you’ll be sharing plenty of your data if you do. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Now, I might be a bit on the older side but I’ve been writing about tech long enough to know that affiliate marketing is, and has for years now been, an immutable fact of life and business in this age of what former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger calls the news industry’s “universal problem” — “the need to sustain (web) traffic in order to increase advertising rates.” Rusbridger blames “an affable-looking geek” named Craig Newmark, who founded Craigslist in “a little, battered, nineteenth-century clapboard house” in San Francisco (that now probably rents for $7,000 a month) for nearly “singlehandedly destroying the American newspaper industry.”
Let me take a moment to give The Guardian props for making the decision to not boost its fortunes at the literal expense of its legions of loyal readers by building a paywall like so many of its competitors have done. Staying free while pioneering the now-ubiquitous “digital first” business model does come with its drawbacks, however, and affiliate links are arguably the most irksome of them all.
What’s most annoying about these links, aside from the fact that what lies on the other side of them is all too often fundamentally opposed to what responsible progressive journalism should endorse, is how they have their way with your privacy. In teensy-tiny 10-point print buried below the article is this warning:
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.
Go ahead, you might as well click that last link too. You’ll find an explanation of what affiliate links are, why The Guardian uses them and how they affect its reporting and your privacy. The site works with third-party affiliate aggregators Skimlinks and Monetizer101, “which have a relationship with thousands of retailers and publishers.”
“When a product is linked from a Guardian article or gallery, Skimlinks automatically places tracking code to the retailer link if the retailer has an affiliate program,” The Guardian explains. “When a reader clicks on an affiliate link, the tracking code places a cookie on the reader’s device that is able to confirm if the reader makes a purchase from the retailer’s website. Skimlinks then attributes a commission from the sale to The Guardian.”
The site says your data will be “used solely for the purpose of tracking a purchase” and that no personal data is collected. It also insists that its “journalism is never influenced by advertisers” and is “not written for the purpose of promoting a product.” It sure did feel like The Guardian was promoting Uber, adding insult to the injury of the poor pay plaguing too many rideshare drivers today.