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Search for “best headphones” on YouTube, and a video by Marques Brownlee, a popular tech YouTuber with nearly 9 million subscribers, will likely be one of the first to appear. Published last November, his video “My Favorite Wireless Headphones | 2018!” has over 2.7 million views. In it, Brownlee describes his favorite pairs of Bluetooth headphones and implores users to “hop on this wireless train before it leaves the station.” Below the video, he includes links to all of the products mentioned.
What he fails to mention in either the description or video itself is that purchases made from those links may also trigger small payments to Brownlee himself. Princeton researchers say the links include referral codes that typically denote such payments.
Federal Trade Commission guidelines for social media endorsements require that influencers prominently disclose if they receive anything—cash, gifts, or something else—that could affect how users view their mention of a company or product. However, few do. Last year, an analysis of over 500,000 YouTube videos and more than 2.1 million Pinterest pins conducted by the Princeton researchers found that influencers rarely disclose their connections to such affiliate marketing links.
Even users savvy about influencer marketing can find it hard to identify affiliate marketing links. A new browser extension released by some of the same Princeton researchers makes them more obvious.
The extension, dubbed AdIntuition, displays a hot pink banner warning users that “This video contains affiliate links. If you click on highlighted links, the creator receives a