There has been some discussion over the weekend over eBay affiliates Shawn Hogan, Brian Dunning and Todd Dunning being sued by eBay over alleged cookie stuffing, and criminal charges on the matter being filed by the grand jury in California based on an investigation by the FBI. They’re being charged under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations). They’re facing potentially millions in fines and up to 20 years in prison.

For cookie stuffing, a practice which I’ve seen people argue is a legitimate affiliate marketing practice. I think this case will decide that argument once and for all.

The Importance of Ethics in Business

This entire case really points up to me the importance of running your business in an ethical matter. Maybe the defendants will be found not guilty, maybe they’ll be found guilty, but look at the inconvenience either way.

They’re guaranteed to have to deal with a lot of legal troubles. They have to spend money to defend themselves. And if they’re guilty? They may spend years in prison. And don’t forget that boatload of fines.

This is a risk you take if you aren’t ethical in your business. You may be able to convince yourself that you’re not doing anything illegal, but that’s what people have argued about with cookie stuffing for a long time.

Look at the practices that are being more carefully watched now with online businesses and offline businesses. The FTC is paying more attention to medical claims and income claims, for example. Are you keeping things perfectly clear in those areas? Can you prove the things you claim in your marketing?

This goes for those in network marketing as well as affiliates. If you make income claims, you need to know what typical results are as well as have proof for any income claims you make. If your product has health claims, your company had better have proof. Unproven claims have the potential to get you in trouble.

If you’re doing something in your home business that is making you feel a bit uncomfortable ethically, think carefully about why. Don’t justify it to yourself, don’t just trust the reasons someone else gave you for why it’s okay to be accurate. Know.

Think They Won’t Catch You?

Thinking you won’t be caught is pretty easy. Lots of people get away with dishonest business practices every day. Just look at all the scams out there.

How’s your luck? Are you certain you will be the one who won’t be caught? Is it worth the trouble?

I’ve met people with the attitude that they won’t get caught, and that they should be able to scam because they themselves were scammed. It’s lousy logic and completely unethical. Most people know that you can’t hurt other people to get back at those who hurt you. That doesn’t balance things out at all.

The Internet Won’t Always Be the Wild West

Sometimes people compare the internet to the Wild West, as it often seems to be a fairly lawless place. But it won’t always be so, as laws catch up to the reality of the internet.

There will be scams online for a long time, as laws vary from country to country. But if you live in a country, have your domain name registered in a country or have your site hosted in a country, it’s not going to be that hard for that country to expect you and your site to obey their laws.

That’s where laws from countries such as the United States can impact affiliates around the world. Many people have their sites hosted in the United States, and those hosts have to obey United States law. If you aren’t, you can lose your site even if the laws can’t touch you personally.

Honesty is Best in the Long Run

In the long run, keeping your business honest is the best way to go. It’s also better in the short run.

You’re less likely to have an honest business jerked out from under you. You build trust over time with an honest business. You don’t have to feel bad about what you’re doing to others with an honest business.