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Pinterest, as All Social Networks Eventually Do, Starts to Flex Its Muscle

Pinterest is at a point where it is getting serious about making money. Anyone who threatens that is out.

Kurt Wagner / Recode
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

It’s inevitable. At some point, every big social network decides it has had enough and throws up big walls to keep out those they view as moochers. Pinterest’s time is now.

The massive image-sharing site, known for its unending grids of product, decor and food photos, is banning affiliate links — a move it says is aimed at protecting the quality of its service. At the same time, Pinterest* is cutting off the way some of its most loyal users — “power Pinners” is the term, sadly — make money, as Pinterest starts to push its own ways to make money for itself.

Affiliate links allow online retailers and other websites to track who directed an individual customer to their website. In exchange for the referral, these retailers will often pay a fee to the person or website that sent them the customer. As a result, some Pinterest users would get paid when someone on Pinterest clicked on one of the images the power Pinner had posted and was sent to an affiliate partner’s site. Pinterest banned most affiliate links from its site a few years back, but had allowed some of its power users and companies they work with to still use them. No more.

“Now, we are removing all affiliate links because they are causing a poor user experience,” a spokesman said in a statement. “Clickthrough rates should be faster and there will be less broken links. There will also be less irrelevant Pins in the home feed caused by following some group boards. This is not about monetization, this is 100 percent about the Pinner experience and ensuring relevant content on Pinterest.”

The move creates an opportunity for smaller Pinterest competitors to try to lure some of these pinners away. One such competitor, Keep, announced on Friday that it would be creating an affiliate program for this very reason.

The ban also underscores the fact that Pinterest is finally at a point where it is getting serious about making money. It introduced an advertising product called Promoted Pins last year and is laying the foundation to eventually add a “Buy” button to its site, as Re/code reported yesterday. Anything that threatens Pinterest’s plan is out, with Pinterest controlling who and how people make money off its service. Especially if, as the company claims, some of these people are adding spam to Pinterest’s boards.

* Pinterest executive Joanne Bradford is an independent board member of Re/code’s parent company Revere Digital and has no involvement in our editorial process.

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