Affiliate install document relationship not disclosed by CDCK?

The page Set up Discourse in the cloud in under 30 minutes on github at

We can recommend NameCheap

which appears to be an affiliate link (utm_medium=Affiliate utm_campaign=1632369

Is this an affiliate link for which CDCK receives compensation? If so, am I missing the clear disclosure here?

I’m asking because

The U.S. FTC legally requires disclosure of affiliate links.
When affiliate marketers — or other people who might be compensated for mentioning brands and products on the internet — talk about the brands and products which they are paid to talk about, the FTC requires that this relationship is disclosed.

That means, basically, that you have to tell your audience that you are getting compensated .

If CDCK derives compensation from affiliate sales from this link, then as a matter of transparency and honesty this disclosure should be added to the recommendation. If subject to FTC regulation, then disclosure must be added.


Wouldn’t the disclosure be … hovering over the link? Or viewing the URL in the address bar once clicked? It’s not like we’re in any way hiding or obscuring the fact that it is a standard affiliate link.

I’ve used amazon affiliate links since … gosh… for almost a decade now on my blog and there’s no special disclosure there, either. It’s pretty standard practice.

There’s no special paid endorsement, we actually like and use NameCheap, and would do that even if they had no affilate program.


Looking at recent FTC enforcement, the focus is on celebrities, athletes, etc on social media:

After reviewing numerous Instagram posts by celebrities, athletes, and other influencers, Federal Trade Commission staff recently sent out more than 90 letters reminding influencers and marketers that influencers should clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media.

Note that namecheap is effectively a footnote in the install guide, a minor recommendation for a required setup step (you gotta have a domain name), not a whole blog post – or Instagram post, in modern parlance – exhorting people to buy domain names.

Furthermore, on top of the footnote-like element to the reference in a technical install guide, which is not in any way a marketing post, we explicitly provide options. We don’t in any way imply or insinuate there is only one option or even a preferred one:

No domain name? We can recommend NameCheap, or there are many other great domain name registrars to choose from.

I appreciate the concern, but I don’t really see a problem here.


Yes, you are hiding the fact that you are making money from a undisclosed affiliate relationship when you expect someone to both see (in a rollover!) and understand that specific URL parameters mean you earn a commision if someone follows that link and makes a purchase.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has very clear guidelines on this lack of honest, full disclosure. I included the link to that in my first post. Did you miss it it? Here it is again:

Here are a few relevant points from the FTC requirements on that page:

One of the more important aspects of FTC Disclosure Rules, and the one that many advertisers try to skirt whenever possible, is that disclaimers of any type need to be “clear and conspicuous.”

You cannot hide or obscure your disclosures.

Clear and Conspicuous to Whom?

Disclosure messages must be clear and conspicuous to “a reasonable consumer.” Not to an industry insider, not to the FTC, not to highly savvy and sophisticated power-user.

This statement is clearly untrue.

In the page “Set up Discourse in the cloud in under 30 minutes with zero knowledge of Rails or Linux shell.” at
your second sentence states " We recommend DigitalOcean" which is clearly a recommendation - and an undisclosed referral link which the U.S. FTC does not allow.

At it states "And when a referred customer spends $25, you’ll also receive a $25 credit with DigitalOcean.

In the next section you state Sign up for DigitalOcean which again is an undisclosed referral link.

Further down the page:

No domain name? We can recommend NameCheap

This is a self-declared recommendation - and is in violation of FTC regulations for disclosure because of the undisclosed, revenue-generating referral link.

Am I raising this because I have a grudge against Discourse? Not at all.

I arrived at the page because I am considering using Discourse for my news publication and other uses. I am a journalist, publisher, Linux admin since before Linux hit 1.0 and embedded software developer of 27 years experience. I’ve run Majordomo and Mailman lists (and continue to do so) for non-profits for over 20 years, and I publish a weekly email news bulletin for our readers. And I’m evaluating Discourse for various uses. I’ve been a participating forum member here for about 1/2 year.

As a journalist and publisher who follows journalism ethics and publishing guidelines, i don’t like undisclosed conflicts-of-interest and hidden advertising. I believe that these behaviours have decreased trust in genuine and honest formal news publications and in a great deal of excellent and honest information that individuals share on the internet. I am glad to see an increasing number of properly disclosed affiliate links on websites.

Discourse asserts that it is about “Civilized discussion” and emphasizes that "The user trust system is a fundamental cornerstone of Discourse. " Yet you have three undisclosed referral links on your self-installation page which don’t support these values, and are also in legal violation of FTC regulations supporting a fair and honest marketplace.

Do you need to delete affiliate links? No! You just need full and honest disclosure. Doing so will align with the values that Discourse espouses.

By stating your financial interest clearly I would not be surprised if users were glad to purchase from the recommended links, knowing explicitly that are supporting Discourse. (Is that true, or do the github affiliate profits go to you personally? That’s not clear to me.)

There is an important legal issue here, but more importantly, an ethical issue. How will Discourse respond to the need to be honest and transparent to those it seeks to have an ongoing and hopefully trustworthy relationship with?


p.s. I lost this message after composing for 15 minutes when I accidentally hitting an unknown browser key. I was delighted that all my text came back when I got back to this thread. Bravo to all the developers who recognized the importance of this feature and implemented it so well.


This is incorrect. The link isn’t obfuscated.

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Good point. I have edited this to be more clear.

Can I ask why this is such a big deal it’s just a recommendation on their part in.a guide to help beginners before I ever moved to Google Cloud Platform I used their install docs and bypassed their domain recommendation but used digital ocean as it’s highly recommended by everyone here they offer this platform free of charge and most likely any money (IF ANY RECIEVED) GOES back into the maintaince of this software that your thinking of using

I get it just to protect Discourse from the FTC, as I think there’s a registered company/foundation/legal instance that represents the Discourse software towards the US Goverment.

Maybe the tone of @Bretty is a little bit menacing, I truly believe there’s no hidden interests from the Discourse team, but maybe a legal expertise can clarify better the needs to disclose the links in all the instances that use that kind of links just to find ways to fund themselves

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We are taking this up with our lawyer internally, if you have any further questions regarding this issue or any other legal issues please email


I’ve changed the text from

We recommend [provider]
Sign up for [provider]


One example is [provider]
Create your new cloud server, for example [provider]

As that’s the one part of this that I felt could be improved – the intent of the install doc isn’t to herd anyone in a particular direction but to provide safe examples that we know have a history of working reliably over a period of years, but are by no means required.