Is Pinterest “Spamming” Facebook?

    February 10, 2012
    Mike Tuttle
    Comments are off for this post.

Pinterest, the virtual pinboard social site, is under light fire again today.

Pinterest Adding Affiliate Links Without Disclosing” target=”_blank”>A few days back, Pinterest drew some fire for their association with SkimLinks and their unannounced practice of converting unaffiliated links to affiliated ones to profit from them. To be fair, while the news surprised some, Pinterest was not really out of line in this matter.

If a pinner had posted a link with their own affiliate ID inside, Pinterest did not strip and replace it, as some sites do. Only in cases of unaffiliated links were the insertions made. And, Pinterest had stated that they could modify content as they saw fit.

The only real complaint that seemed to be had was from retailers who had affiliate programs but who were using Pinterest to drive unaffiliated traffic to their site without realizing that Pinterest was piggy-backing on their efforts. In that case, Pinterest‘s commissions might skew the numbers a bit in terms of effort vs payoff. But, even once factored in, it is unlikely that it would make a retailer stop using Pinterest.

SkimLinks defended its role with Pinterest in the matter and stated that they do encourage their partners to be open and apparent about using their service. In general, the whole tempest in a teapot seems to have settled down. And, Pinterest‘s huge user base was hardly the wiser and couldn’t have cared less.

That was then; this is now. Yesterday, Google Developer Advocate Don Dodge posted to his Google+, Twitter, Facebook and TheNextWeb pages that he was shocked to find that Pinterest was spamming his Facebook friends and himself with follow requests and confirmations. As others piled on, commented, and shared their own stories, the true picture began to emerge. I believe that this “spamming” is less an insidious violation by Pinterest and more an ill-thought-out “feature” of Pinterest. Let me ‘splain.

When I first signed up for Pinterest months ago, via an invitation sent by my wife, I noticed that Pinterest allowed me to sign up using one of four methods:

  • Email address
  • Username
  • Via Facebook
  • Via Twitter
  • I chose to go with a user name. To be frank, I don’t like signing into anything via Facebook. I know it’s convenient and all that, but I’ve found that I end up with “features” that I don’t really want.

    For example, I love Spotify. I got an invite early on when it first hit the U.S. and I went Premium pretty fast (in fact, it’s playing as I write this). I loved the notion of connecting to other Spotify users, sharing playlists, etc. I connected to Facebook through Spotify and started having a grand old time looking at friends’ playlists.

    Then, one evening, a friend texted me:

    “Didn’t know if you were aware that everything you are listening to on Spotify is showing up in my Facebook feed. I’m just sayin’…”

    I had not known. Didn’t realize that’s one of the things connecting the two would result in. Sure enough, everything I played was rolling through the ticker of all my friends. Fortunately, I wasn’t (currently) listening to any of my favorites from the X-rated catalogs of David Allen Coe, Lords of Acid, or Peaches (sorry, no links. do a youtube search. they’re all there.) But, I disconnected my Facebook/Spotify connection immediately. For a while, you had to specifically tell Spotify every time you logged in to NOT share your music. Then, Spotify fixed that. Now, I only connect occasionally to see what’s up out there, then disconnect to start any listening. I know it goes against the spirit of that sharing thing, like not re-seeding torrents, but that’s just how I roll. What I listen to is my business, not my mother in-law’s.

    The point is, when you connect to anything via Facebook, you have to be careful what you wish for. And, one of the consequences of connecting to Pinterest via Facebook is that it automatically connects you to all your Facebook friends who are on Pinterest. Then, as it should, it sends you an email confirming that new connection. The trouble is, these all come at once. Of course, you have the option to go change your email settings in Pinterest to prevent all those emails. But, when most people first sign up, they are on default email settings, which sends you notifications on everything. Only once they start rolling do they tire of the constant emails and find their way to the prefs page to change it.

    A comment from Ben (presumably Ben Silbermann) at Pinterest on Don Dodge’s TheNextWeb post confirms this:

    Just to clarify, when a person signs up for Pinterest using Facebook, she follows friends who have already joined Pinterest. We notify her friends via email.

    We only send emails to people who have already signed up for Pinterest. We also give everyone the option of disconnecting their Facebook account from Pinterest, joining with Twitter, and disabling email notifications. All of these options are found on our user settings page.

    Based on the feedback, we’ve made updates to the product and our emails that we hope will clear up any confusion. We really appreciate the feedback.

    co-founder, Pinterest

    Moral of the story: Friends, don’t sign up to anything via Facebook. Believe it or not, lots of people out there do not even use Facebook. The world will keep on turning.

    • http://www.rottitudecom Lauri Rottmayer

      I am so with you on that! I am very suspicious of Facebook apps and have just a handful of them to connect me at about.me, etc. But I have tons of friends who have turned Facebook into Pinterest Jr. Usually someone will say something to them and they will turn it off but it gets very Pinteresty in Facebook at times. I honestly don’t see a need to see the same content on Pinterest, Facebook and twitter and try to be careful of my friends/followers in that respect.

    • http://twitter.com/markjohnh MJH

      What I liked best about the statement from Pinterest was, “Just to clarify, when a person signs up for Pinterest using Facebook, she follows friends…” I guess they are as aware of their demographic as everyone else. :)

    • Mike Tuttle

      Yeah, that *she* stuck out pretty boldly to me too. Currently 80% women. Haha.

    • Christoph

      This is clearly by design and explains the massive growth of Pinterest. A friend signed up and didn’t realize he would automatically follow all of his Facebook friends that were already on Pinterest. Unfortunately, that included several ex-girlfriends. He was not very happy when he found out that they all received emails that he “follows” them now.

      These techniques are the quickest way to grow a site, and most people don’t seem to mind. So I think we will see stuff like this a lot in the future.

    • Su Z

      Please update, there is no longer a email address or user name option; only Facebook and Twitter.

    • tony

      how does pinterest know who my facebook friends are when i never joined the site and how does the site know who I am ? That does not seem right to me that it can do that.