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 https://github.com/discourse/discourse/blob/master/docs/INSTALL-cloud.md
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 https://www.digitalocean.com/referral-program/ 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.