How “Kessler’s Flying Circus” cookie-stuffed its way to $5.2M from eBay

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Wikimedia Commons Between May 2006 and June 2007, Brian Andrew Dunning made $5.2 million— all of it from eBay. Dunning wasn’t selling Velvet Elvis posters and antique dinner plates through the auction site, however. He earned the money from affiliate commissions, getting paid whenever he directed people to eBay and they made purchases or won auctions. He was so successful at driving this traffic to eBay that his company, Kessler’s Flying Circus, became the number two eBay affiliate in the entire world. His numbers grew so high and so fast that eBay began asking awkward questions almost immediately. How exactly, eBay wanted to know, was Dunning driving all of this traffic to the site? The company was well aware of the wide variety of tricks that affiliates could use to boost their stats, including one called “cookie stuffing.” With cookie stuffing, affiliates would surreptitiously “stuff” their own eBay cookie into user computers. The next time the user visited eBay, the cookie would credit any sales commissions to the affiliate’s account. (Each cookie contained an affiliate ID number; if a computer already had an eBay cookie on it, the most recently created one was used to pay out affiliate commissions.) These commissions weren’t measured in pennies, either. At the time, eBay was offering $25 to affiliates for every single new “active user” and a whopping 50 percent commission on any user’s auction wins so long as they exceeded $100 within a week’s time. eBay worried that Kessler’s Flying Circus had cookie-stuffed its way into the second place affiliate slot. But Dunning told an eBay employee looking into the matter that he was “absolutely confident” that he was operating “in line with the intended spirit of the terms.” Dunning’s partner told eBay separately that any problems were simply “coding errors.” Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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How “Kessler’s Flying Circus” cookie-stuffed its way to $5.2M from eBay

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