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Is affiliate marketing kosher?

Question:

Dear Din Online,

A popular source of extra income in Israel these days (because who couldn’t use some more?) is affiliate marketing.

I do not engage in this myself but — having provided services to some of these companies — I understand how it works. However, I have always wondered whether — halachically — such a line of business is kosher.

Let me describe it:

People will set up websites (or Facebook Groups) and post links to product recommendations.

Although these usually look the same as regular links to, say, an Amazon product, they are actually tied to the poster’s account and he/she will earn a commission if the browser ends up purchasing the product.

I have a few “doubts” about the legitimacy of this:

a) People will often not disclose that they are earning money from the links shared although it is best practice to do so. Ie, people might be part of a Facebook Group that just looks like the poster is recommending products when in fact they are simply hoping to use the group members to click on links and earn them money!

b) I have seen people posting affiliate links to Facebook Groups for products that I know are not good.

To my mind an affiliate marketer that publishes everything and anything that he calculates might earn him commission — without knowing whether or not the products are good — is misleading people. As people will spend their hard earned money on his/her recommendations (and he/she will get some of that) I have often thought that this is considered something like theft.

However I am not an expert on such matters.

If you can give any clarity as to the ethical and/or halachic dimension of this dubious way of earning money — which I have noted is growing in popularity among the “religious” community — I would be most grateful.

Answer:

The terminology of your question is full of scorn, and largely based on your personal opinion. Personally I know people that sell a certain type of product and I have found that they are indeed helpful, and I don’t see any issue with it at all.

Regarding your “doubts”, why should the person have to disclose that he is making a commision from the company? The company is paying  the person and not you. You will have to pay the same price whether you buy it straight from the company or thru this person, so you are not losing anything by it. Does a store owner have to actually tell you that he is making money? It is not geneivas daas because it is normal for people to make a commision when giving over a recommendation, and the customer should have thought of it on his own.

The fact that you personally feel that the products are not good is your opinion. There are many people who do like the products, and feel that they have helped them. If the seller is lying, or knowingly fooling the customer, that is wrong, Additionally for the seller to misrepresent the product is also lying and possibly stealing, but if the seller actually believes in what he is selling, I don’t see the problem with it. As a side point, nowadays you can check up most products to see what other people that have used the product have to say about it, and it is a wise practice for someone to check into what he is buying before actually buying the product.

Best wishes

 

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