A recent Freedom Of Information Act request was sent out to a concerned citizen going by the online handle of The Chief Lunatic. The report totals more than a thousand pages and it’s been confirmed that Gawker had multiple articles investigated by the FTC that did not include disclosures, violating the basic FTC guidelines regarding ads, affiliate links and endorsements.
The FOIA was sent out by the FTC and notes that not everything regarding the investigation into Gawker could be revealed in the request. There was an exemption for 890 pages that were denied access to due to ongoing law enforcement investigations into Gawker.
On page 26 of the FOIA, it highlights how the FTC wanted all details regarding Gawker’s connection with advertisers and affiliates, including links and screenshots for when affiliate links were used and the relationship Gawker had with ad vendors. The investigation kicked off in late 2014 after a campaign operation was put together by #GamerGate where they collected various articles from Gawker with undisclosed affiliate links and notified the FTC about them, which you can read about in an archived post over on Kotaku in Action.
The information was sent in by Gawker’s legal representative, Marc Zwillinger. There were delays from Zwillinger’s end when it came to getting the details submitted, but the FTC requested multiple times to gain further information regarding some of their non-Kinja deal articles, and eventually Zwillinger complied, revealing that Gawker’s subsidiaries did have multiple undisclosed affiliate links tucked away in their articles.
In the FOIA it’s revealed that Gawker had to relinquish data to the FTC that saw how various articles across their sites contained undisclosed affiliate links, including an article from December, 2014 published on Gizmodo relating to mobile smartphones titled “The Best Cheap Smartphone For Every Off-Contract Need”.
An archive from February 15th, 2015 shows that like the example submitted to the FTC, the Gizmodo piece contained multiple undisclosed affiliate links to Amazon. As you can see in the images below, the code contains outbound links to Amazon using Gizmodo’s affiliate tag. No disclosures, of course.
For reference, the tag for Gizmodo’s Amazon affiliation links is: tag=gizmodoamzn-20
You can actually use that tag to further search out other links across their pages to see where the link is used.
However, the more recent iteration of those pages containing those affiliate links from the FOIA have been scrubbed, which is evidenced in the archive of the exact same page from November, 2015.
According to the FOIA request, it’s revealed that more than 161 readers purchased items from the Gizmodo piece linked above.
Another article from December 13th, 2014 on Gizmodo titled “The Best Bluetooth Speaker For Every Portable Need” reveals that it also had undisclosed affiliate links contained within. The FOIA reveals that more than 250 people purchased a wireless Bluetooth speaker through the article. No disclosure, of course.
Oddly enough, even to this day the article still has an affiliate link with no disclosure. A recent archive of the very same article shows that Gawker nor Gizmodo’s staff have updated the piece to acknowledge that it contains affiliate links.
There are other articles linked throughout the FOIA as well, with the full report totaling more than 1,700 pages.
As mentioned at the top of the article, not every piece in the report highlights Gawker’s corruption. Some of the articles are from Kinja’s publishing branch, where – to their credit – they do disclose that they are not affiliated with the editorial branch of the Gawker subsidiary (such as Kotaku) and that they may receive a commission from sales if a user makes a purchase through the provided affiliate link.
While Gawker.com may have bitten the dust in the wake of the Hulk Hogan lawsuit, it appears as if the FTC isn’t quite done with Gawker and neither are various other enforcement agencies. Now that Gawker and its subsidiaries are owned by Univision, it makes you wonder if they’ll be picking up the tab for whatever the results are from the FTC investigation?
The FOIA can be provided to journalists and other members of the press upon request.
(Huge thanks to The Chief Lunatic for the news tip)