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Show HN: I built a Chrome extension to donate to charities while on Amazon (smilealways.io)
51 points by jhaimson on Nov 11, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments

This is a great cause. Just one concern: I understand the desire to quantify the difference you're making in the world, but seeing the counter that (currently) says "66 redirects have been made with this extension!" actually influenced me to not install the extension. It seems like the implementation of that could easily leak the list of things I look at on Amazon to you or others, and it shouldn't need to "phone home" like that to function as an extension. If you remove that you'll have another happy giver. :)

I completely understand - this was one of our major concerns when we were deciding whether or not we should count redirects. If you look at the function incrementCounter() in the code (https://github.com/Jdhaimson/smilealways/blob/master/chromep...) you can see that all we are doing is pinging the server without passing any information along to increment a counter each time someone is redirected.

That being said, I think I will take it off of the site because it can be scary if you don't look at the code. Thanks for the suggestion!

Without rate limiting it looks be to susceptible to abuse.

Yeah, I realize this method is open to abuse. I just figured that the counter really was more of a "nice-to-have" so I can see how many times it was working, but if someone really wanted to abuse it than it wouldn't be that big of an issue. I'd have an incorrect count, but that's about it.

At the end of the day, it wasn't worth spending the initial effort to build against that. I intend on doing this in the future, but for now I'm willing to accept the risk of having an incorrect redirect count and get it out to more people in the meantime.

Decided to get rid of this tracking entirely. The newest update doesn't make any calls to any server to deal with concerns over privacy.

Be VERY careful with this - it may end up hurting the charities you want to help. If Amazon dislikes this they may not be able to do anything to you (or to get you to stop it) but they may be able to shut down charities that are receiving money because of you. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find language in the affiliate agreements that bars this kind of thing and kills accounts of charities that use it.

I've made a few comments but you're at the top currently so I'll piggy back:

To OP, in the words of Hank Williams "I've been down that road before..."

I wrote a FF extension for our site that did something (I'm guessing similar), look at the site, and do the appropriate redirect with some ids and what not so i could track the charity for CJ/LinkShare/Amazon/whatever flavor. Theicon would turn green if you were affiliate shopping and I was taking redirects from Slickdeals and sites like it and making them my own transparently. You may have a newer, better method that gets around agreements sites make but from my experience, the affiliate houses (and retailers) much prefer actual driven traffic to a scraper like mine (and maybe yours). In retrospect, I can see that it was essentially a leach. I wasn't really encouraging many people to do shopping they otherwise wouldn't have done (well that would be the retailers point I guess). If I had any influence it was only marginal and I was taking revenue directly from direct traffic sites which, most likely, weren't happy and might not continue to drive traffic to certain retailers if commissions went down by a noticeable margin (or link jacking was allowed in the TOS).

I haven't read your code, I'm purely guessing as to what it does, so if I'm offbase let me know and I'd be very interested in your approach).

EDIT: After finishing that novel, I actually looked at the site. Does it just redirect any link to Amazon? I was expecting some link-jacking and ID insertion, so maybe nevermind. Mine was charity based as well (similar to Goodshop) but a bit more aggressive (in the charity's favor) which is where I believe the downfall to be.

Still I think @atwebb is right and as http://socialvest.us and http://aflattr.com were already shutdown Amazon is just not that happy with someone taking their revenue to charities. If it's just redirecting to smile.amazon.com it could be alright as it's the "sane" revenue share of only 0.5% and Amazon is promoting it itself, but still the automatic redirect will perhaps let them kill it.

But then... why doesn't Amazon always donate? Free PR it seems.

Is it really necessary for this extension to "access your data on all websites" and "access your tabs and browsing activity"? That's asking a lot.

Shouldn't it only need to access amazon.com? E.g. once it detects my browser is on amazon.com, just redirect to smile.amazon.com. What else does it need to do?

Good point, I accidentally left in these excess permissions from when I was first building it. Removing them now and submitting an update, thanks for letting me know!

It probably waits until you hit a site it that's in in their store catalog and redirects with the proper CJ/LS/Amazon link. I wrote something similar for Firefox a few years ago.

Pretty sure chrome requires all extensions to state that. It's not that the application needs to, but in the event that it does, chrome wants a catch-all phrase.

That's not true. Look at the first example in the docs: http://developer.chrome.com/extensions/permission_warnings.h...

I understand this is for a good cause, but isn't this just stealing money from Amazon? You are exploiting a program that is designed to encourage additional sales, not give money away from any random Amazon transaction.

No, it's not stealing from Amazon. They offer the referral system as a service to those who wish to refer people. It's a relic of their 'growth-hacking' days. If they thought it was stealing, they'd simply discontinue the service. It's easy to argue that they don't need it anymore.

But, as someone who's looked into the legality of this (I was building something very similar, but with a narrower charity set than the OP's), it is against their terms of service.

Just out of curiosity - if a charity has an affiliate account, won't they get like 4%+ of the purchase? (https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/join/land...)

This chrome extension is really cool, and good for just forgetting to use charity affiliate links, but if your charity has an affiliate account that's the best way to do it right?

4-10% actually. And there were projects actually using these percentages to donate to good causes, till Amazon burned them and copied the idea to make it more financially positive for them 4-10% vs 0.5%.

Neat idea. I did something similar except it was meant to support your favorite podcasts or websites through Amazon Affiliate sales and I didn't build a plugin, I used an existing one in a different way.


Reminds me of Daniel Gross's first product (before Greplin/Cue) http://www.lostinmobile.com/home/daniel-gross-and-greplin.ht...

I do love the idea of this. Even immediately downloaded it to my torch browser, but I did want some input before actually using it. Seems like there is some hesitation. How safe is this? And will it be bad for Amazon or the charities involved?

I tried your extension but it caused Chrome to get stuck in an infinite redirection loop.

I used the eBook link to amazon.com on this page: http://37signals.com/remote/

I made a very similar extension last week (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/always-smile/fpaap...) and encountered this issue, too. You can resolve it by going to http://smile.amazon.com and choosing your charity. After that, the extension should work as expected.

Thanks for letting me know! Was it this link that caused the issue for you? http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00C0ALZ0W?ie=UTF8&tag=rand...

For some reason, it seems to be working fine for me.

I hadn't heard of Amazon Smile until now. Why doesn't Amazon do this for every transaction? Would it hurt business to give 0.5% to charities automatically?

Amazon already operates at very small margins (http://ycharts.com/companies/AMZN/profit_margin), so any amount given to charity hurts the bottom line.

I'm guessing this affects affiliate redirects, right?

Yes, this will also redirect affiliate links

I don't want to discourage you, but socialvest.us and aflattr.com both did redirect via affiliate links and were burned from Amazon.

And it absolutely makes sense.

Amazon isn't just giving out free money. Affiliates are meant to drive traffic to the Amazon website. This service doesn't seem to do that.

How about a browser extension that tries to find local/national alternatives to Amazon while viewing articles on Amazon?

You can give my extension a try : http://www.shoptimate.com

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