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888.com: Gambling with your Content

(Note: This article contains links to gambling-related sites)

Anyone who has dealt with spam, be it in their email, their comments or in dealing with complete spam blogs, knows that a good percentage of it comes from online gambling sites, especially poker-related ones (Note: By merely having he word “poker” in this piece I predict it will be lifted for spam blogs).

While it’s easy to blame these acts on rogue affiliates abusing their systems for a cheap dollar, it’s important to remember that the person who benefits the most from this behavior is the company itself. They are the ones supplied with a steady stream of new customers and have the responsibility to keep their affiliates, the people representing their company, in check.

Sadly, it’s obvious that at least some companies do little, if anything, to prevent affiliates from spamming and, perhaps worst for Webmasters, scraping content. Fortunately though,  the gambling industry is striking back and, hopefully, their efforts will be felt positively by Webmasters all over the Internet.

Hitting Back Against Scraping

The International Gaming Affiliate Marketing Initiative or IGAMI, is a non-profit organization that "provides viable affiliate/marketer protections through mediation and the creation, evolution, and continuous monitoring of acceptable codes of conduct."

In December, 2005 IGAMI blacklisted Cassava Enterprises for unethical affiliate practices including scraping and spamming. After Cassava promised to take a stricter stance on affiliate misbehavior, IGAMI changed their status to "probationary" in a few weeks later. Around this time, Cassava and IGAMI worked together to shut down hundreds of scraper sites.

However, things turned sour again in March of this year. IGAMI received several additional complaints from Webmasters that claimed their content was being illegally used by affiliates for two of Cassava’s Enterprise’s sites,  888.com and casino-on-net.com.

IGAMI provided Cassava with what it calls "indisputable evidence" of the wrongdoings and wrote three times seeking a reply. This time, it never received one. All communication and cooperation from the company ceased.

Thus, in April, the organization voted to blacklist Cassava’s affiliate programs for no less than one year. In a follow up post later in the month, IGAMI said that it had found several cases of forum spamming as well and reiterated it’s decision to place Cassaava on their industry blacklist.

However, as it turned out, IGAMI wasn’t the only one paying attention.

CAPped

Around the time that IGAMI was preparing their final report, another casino affiliate group, CasinoAffiliatePrograms.com  or CAP, announced it was suspending the certification of Cassava’s programs due to a "failure to reach an amicable resolution to the problem of content theft and blog spamming being performed by their top affiliate."

CAP had sought, among other things, "A public statement by 888 indicating that they do not condone nor will they reward content theft by their affiliates.", an addition to the Cassava affiliate TOS indicating as such and a good faith effort to follow those practices. They never got it.

CAP’s decision also result in the closing of their Cassava-related forums, which had been a popular meeting place for affiliates of 888.com, and the strong urging that affiliates promote another service instead.

Soon thereafter, players’ groups got involved in the controversy. Casinomeister, a Casion watchdog and player advocacy group, gave Cassava’s sites Rogue status, a title usually reserved for sites that are "guilty of gross customer negligence bordering on the criminal".

This prompted other groups to do the same. GamesandCasino.com blacklisted Cassava as did Casino Nederland and Choice Gambling among others.

But even as the online gambling industry continues to rally against Cassava’s practices, it’s share price remains steady and the company remains unrepentant.

The worst, sadly, may be yet to come.

The Unforgiven

Cassava Enterprises, which is based in Gibraltar, runs four major casino operations. Cassava claims to subscribe to the code of ethics put forth by the Interactive Gaming Council (IGC)whose advertising code of practice clearly states:

"8. Advertisements should not contain any material that infringes on another’s intellectual property rights;

9. Members should not engage in the distribution of unsolicited advertising (i.e. SPAM) either directly or through a third party."

Furthermore, Cassava’s own affiliate TOS requires that advertisers get approval for any "alternative sites" that they wish to put links on. However, given almost complete lack of response to this matter by Cassava, both to myself and the groups involved, it appears that they have little interest in enforcing these rules.

In the end, Cassava seems to represent what people hate most about the online gaming industry. A purely profit-motivated company that doesn’t care about morals or ethics.

The Sad News

Even though it’s heartwarming to see the online gaming industry rally to ostracize a company that tacitly endorses spamming and content theft, it’s not likely to have a dramatic impact on Cassava’s actions. Cassava is too big to be drastically hurt by these moves and doesn’t seem to care enough about its reputation to change its ways, at least not quickly.

While there’s no doubt that this will keep new affiliates from promoting the service and at least a few players away, there’s still far more money to be made with these unethical actions than there is to be lost. Worse still, since Cassava is located in Gibraltar, it will be almost impossible for anyone to bring suit against them for their actions.

Clearly, before scraping and content theft will stop, the dynamics of the Web have to change so that the money to be made simply isn’t enough to justify the risk.

Until that time, unethical individuals, in all lines of business, will seize it as a means to a quick dollar. It’s a sad testament to human nature, but a force we must all deal with when trying to protect our work online.

(Update 05/11: This story was modified from its original format to offer a more complete time line of events.)

[tags]Plagiairism, Content Theft, Copyright Infringement, Splogging, Scraping Cassava, Gambling, Casinos[/tags]

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