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Referrals from Morpheus

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 3/29/02 issue of R&R Morpheus has shown signs of being whipped into submission. They are, like Napster before them, embracing independent artists with a set-your-own-price program to sell CDs and digital media through CDBaby. They are also, unfortunately, looking to more desperate measures to generate income as they search for legitimacy.

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One somewhat alarming development is Morpheus' use of hidden software that either pops up ads to you at odd moments, tracks your movements around the service, or, in the latest magic trick, pretend as though their software is the referral source when you go to a website.

When their software is running on your system, a list of sites is kept in the background that pay for referrals. If Morpheus sees you typing in a site that pays them for sending surfers their way, they will redirect your effort, sending you first through a site that Morpheus owns that contains the code that tells your intended site that Morpheus sent you. Morpheus gets credit in the form of a few cents (or dollars, depending upon their deal with the target site), and it works with any of the hundreds of sites that Morpheus has deals with.

We're not talking about clicking through on an ad or a text link on Morpheus, but the random typing of a user. That's not what referral fees are all about - this allow Morpheus to take credit and get paid for the branding efforts of other outlets. Suppose you're listening to the radio while you're pirating music on Morpheus, and you hear an ad for Amazon. That spot reminds you that you have been meaning to buy a book there, and you type in www.amazon.com in your browser window. You get there eventually, but not before being rerouted through Morpheus' referral site.

Here's what that means: Morpheus makes money and gains credibility with Amazon, and the radio ad that reminded you to pop over to Amazon and grab that book does not, potentially watering down Amazon's idea of radio's effectiveness.

Does it matter at all that Morpheus is making money off your whims, and is doing so without letting you know? Sure it does. The secrecy is bad enough, but the concept that Morpheus prompted you to move on to another site, that they somehow influenced your decision and should get some sort of credit for it is ludicrous. It's no money out of your pocket, but it is money out of the pockets of the sites you travel to.

Did you expect anything less from people who wash their hands of any responsibility for facilitating the rampant piracy that is everywhere on the Net? They couldn't pay their bills to the other thieves that created their back end software, so they are looking to make money any way they can, even if it means deceiving their consumers and their affiliate partners.

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