Purveyor of Pleasure

Pleasure is my business, my life, my joy, my purpose.

EdenFantasys: A Sex Shop I Don’t Trust

It’s taken me a while to get to posting about all the problems that have been going on with EF. I mentioned briefly when I stopped reviewing for them after all the crap that happened in 2008 but have never dedicated a post to it until now. I wasn’t going to, until I tweeted about EF and had people ask me what was going on, which made me realize there probably are people out there who haven’t heard about what is going on and would like to know. I think getting this information out there is important.

I would like to say, I don’t have any negative feelings about people who work for EF or who are continuing to review for/contribute to EF as long as you are making informed decisions. My problem is with the upper management of the company, the policy makers, and thus the corporate entity itself. I’m not advocating for anything with this post other than your right to make informed decisions. Reviews for EF will still be included in Pleasurists, just like they have been from the beginning, even though I have chosen not to work with them since 2008. I am actively encouraging you to read up as much about everything going on and make your own decision, even if that is contrary to my own.

What follows is a list of links regarding the controversy surrounding EF and my own opinions at the bottom.

Wilhelmina Wang has put together an awesome link round-up of the epic fail which is so awesome and amazing I am blatantly going to steal from it (and by steal I mean repost with permission). My own personal reactions are after the links (look for the line).

EdenFantasys History of Fail(s)

2008

– Sexblog giant Always Aroused Girl works on blogging & PR projects for EF, but is refused payment for her work, and so sues her employer and dukes it out in court, with little success.

– Another sexblog giant, Essin’ Em, works on developing a reviewer program and bringing in new products to the site. Her employer gives her a hard time when she leaves an IM conversation with him to take care of a friend who was just beaten up by her husband, then berates her for not mentioning EF in an interview she gave which had nothing to do with the company, and doesn’t pay her her affiliate commissions in a timely manner.

– EF agrees to sponsor the 2009 NYC Sexblog Calender, then backs out at the last minute.

– The Google Spreadsheet that contains reviewers’ confidential information (full name, physical address, along with their blog name and URL) is made public due to an ex-employee’s fuck up. EF claims that using Google Spreadsheets is not how they typically run their business, which Essin’ Em points out to be a blatant lie.

2010

That Toy Chick blogs about how she was also forced to legally fight for pay that was her right.

Epiphora, one of the most prolific sextoy bloggers out there, is banned from EF’s forums for no apparent reason. EF says that she was banned for “drama, rudeness and overall negativity”, but it appears that she was banned merely for stating her honest opinion. She was banned without being contacted about it first, without any of her posts being flagged, and EF goes on to publicly humiliate her in their forums under the guise of “being transparent.” One contributor decides to leave EF for good over this issue, and a whole bunch of posts are written in Epiphora’s support:

~ Essin’ Em: EdenFantasys, Not a Place I Trust

~ AAG: Problems with EdenFantasys, Take Nine Thousand

~ Garnet: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

~ Sarah Sloane, who used to be on the editorial staff of EF’s SexIs magazine: Money, ethics and real sex-positivity

~ Britni: Bad Move, EdenFantasys

~ Carnivalesq: EdenFallacys

~ The Blogging Slave: EdenFantasys.com Debacle

~ Toys in Love: When Push comes to Shove…

~ Woman’s Tribune: Eden Fantasys, A Sex Shop No One Can Trust

~ Erosblog: Edenfantasys.com Shoots Itself in the Balls… Again

– Maymay, who runs Maybe Maimed, Kink on Tap and Male Submission Art, and who also happens to be a professional computer programmer, discovers that EF’s linking practices are unethical. (This post has been cross-posted here, here, here, here and here, and Maymay is encouraging people to re-post the entire entry, or excerpts of it, in case he gets a Cease and Desist notice.) Basically, EF pretends to link back to its reviewers, contributors, people who they’ve done link-exchanges with, even companies whose products they sell… but they actually don’t. The links don’t work. This prevents others from getting traffic from all of EF’s sites, and ensures that EF will appear higher in Google search results. Google specifically points out that behavior like this is unethical. In his post, Maymay also outlines actions you can take in response to this. You can report EF to Google here.

Internet sex toy retailer Web Merchants, Inc., which bills itself as the “sex shop you can trust” and does business under the name EdenFantasys, has implemented technology on their websites that actively interferes with contributors’ content, intercepts outgoing links, and alters republished content so that links in the original work are redirected to themselves. Using techniques widely acknowledged as unethical by Internet professionals and that are arguably in violation of major search engines’ policies, EdenFantasys’s publishing platform has effectively outsourced the task of “link farming” (a questionable Search Engine Marketing [SEM] technique) to sites with which they have “an ongoing relationship,” such as AlterNet.org, other large news hubs, and individual bloggers’ blogs.

Articles published on EdenFantasys websites, such as the “community” website SexIs Magazine, contain HTML crafted to look like links, but aren’t. When visited by a typical human user, a program written in JavaScript and included as part of the web pages is automatically downloaded and intercepts clicks on these “link-like” elements, fetching their intended destination from the server and redirecting users there. Due to the careful and deliberate implementation, the browser’s status bar is made to appear as though the link is legitimate, and that a destination is provided as expected.

For non-human visitors, including automated search engine indexing programs such as Googlebot, the “link” remains non-functional, making the article a search engine’s dead-end or “orphan” page whose only functional links are those whose destination is EdenFantasys’s own web presence. This makes EdenFantasys’ website(s) a self-referential black hole that provides no reciprocity for contributors who author content, nor for any website ostensibly “linked” to from article content. At the same time, EdenFantasys editors actively solicit inbound links from individuals and organizations through “link exchanges” and incentive programs such as “awards” and “free” sex toys, as well as syndicating SexIs Magazine content such that the content is programmatically altered in order to create multiple (real) inbound links to EdenFantasys’s websites after republication on their partner’s media channels.

A similar slew of posts crop up in response:

~ Garnet: Business Ethics

~ She Posts: EdenFantasys Accused of Hoarding Links

~ Rayne: We’re Just Waiting, Hoping… Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

~ Sarah Sloane: Beyond Disgusted… Partly with Myself

~ Tom Allen: Beast of Eden

~ Figleaf: Web Merchants, Inc and EdenFantasys Unfortunate, Unethical, Link-Hiding Policies

~ Menstrual Poetry: EdenFantasys: Crumbling Community

– Britni posts to EF’s forums, linking to Maymay’s entry. The post is removed in less than a day. So much for EF being transparent! Luckily, both Britni and AAG took screencaps of the forum thread.

EF posts a response to Maymay’s entry, which basically reads: bullshit, bullshit, placating-PR-speak, more bullshit. They claim that they’re using linking practices that many other big websites use, in order to prevent viral links. Hmm.

– Maymay explains why, exactly, their explanation is bullshit. (Cross-posted here.) (More information can be found here.)

– When EF forum members start questioning EF’s practices, voicing their concern, or, in some instances, doing nothing at all, EF responds by locking their accounts and deleting threads and posts, even though they claim to support freedom of speech and claim to not censor their membership. Again, with no warning or contacting of the members who posted the comments in question.

~ Juliettia: EdenFallacys

~ Britni: EF Continues to Dig its Own Grave

~ Woman Tribune: EdenFantasys: A Sex Shop No One Can Trust

~ DarlingDove: What I Tried to Say On EF

~ Forum Discussion Screenshot via Mistress Kay uploaded by AAG

~ Forum Discussion Screenshot via Of Sex and Law uploaded by AAG

– EF explains that they are disabling these accounts and posts as a “cooling off period.” They go on to add a FAQ thread, where they elaborate more on the locked accounts, as well as their linking practices, claiming that “there has never been an intention, or agreement, or any commitment to link back to a writer,” “there is nothing illegal or even suspicious in our business practices” and “if you read negative posts about us, look a few lines below or to the side, you will always find our competition’s promos,” none of which makes any sense.

– Sex educator and writer Violet Blue comments that EF may be looking at a reputation crisis, and says she will be writing more about the scandal shortly. Tristan Taormino re-tweets about the debacle, and sex toy stores such as myticklespot begin commenting on it, as well.

– In spite of it all, a number of people are deciding to stay with EF because of other factors.

There’s a good amount of discussion, re-tweeting, etc going on on Twitter under the hashtags #EFLies, #EdensFallacy and #EdensFucked.

Epiphora has put together a (much more well-written) post about these events, with more past-employee-horror-stories, here.

To summarize: the biggest issue some people are taking with EF is that they claim to want to foster a community, but their actions indicate that they could care less.

All the info above (after “EdenFantasys History of Fail(s)”) is from Wilhelmina’s awesome post!


My Opinions

When I first started reviewing sex toys I reviewed for EF. I stopped in 2008 when they screwed AAG over, when Essin’ Em posted about her experience with EF, and when the owner made some an extremely backhanded comments basically saying “we don’t need the sex blogging community so you should praise us for letting you in to our club.”

I get that EF is doing reviewers a favor in supplying toys to review, in trying to build a community, etc. But that doesn’t mean they should say one thing and then do another. While, yes, I highly appreciate any site that is willing to send me (or anyone) free products in exchange for a review, that doesn’t mean I should not hold them accountable for unethical practices. I do appreciate the fact that EF seems to want to build up the sex blogger community and sponsors sex toy reviews, (notice I said “seems”) but that doesn’t mean they should snub their noses at us, the reviewers, contributors, and bloggers, because if they didn’t really need us you wouldn’t see dozens of sex toy related websites looking for people to write reviews for them to drive traffic to their sites and up their pagerank.

I found Garnet Joyce’s post on “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” to be extremely spot-on as far as my feelings for EF, especially in her comparison of EF to SuicideGirls. Essentially they are trying to use sex-positivity as a marketing tactic rather than an actual philosophy they agree with. I highly encourage you to read it, especially if you know the controversy related to SG (and if you don’t, then you should definitely read it).

For the full list of things EF has done see above. The biggest thing recently (not counting the massive crap in 2008) is MayMay’s, discovery of their incredibly unethical linking practices. As it mentions above, EF responded to these claims extremely poorly, silencing anyone who dared speak against them by locking or banning them from EF.

MayMay tweeted about a TED Talk on How Social Media Can Make History by Clay Shirky which is extremely relevant to the situation, if you don’t want to watch the entire thing (it’s about 16 minutes long) I suggest you skip to 12:26 where he talks about the Obama campaign. Basically, instead of shutting down a controversial and negative group on MyBarackObama or simply ignoring the concerns being raised Obama issued a press release saying “I hear you, I understand your complaints, but I am still going to vote the other way.” While people were upset that he did not change his mind they ultimately respected this because Obama actually addressed the issue they were talking about and clearly showing that they were heard.

Clay Shirky says (I’m paraphrasing) the mature use of social media is to realize your job (as an administrator) is not to control the content of your supporters/contributors/etc. but to convene them together so they can talk amongst themselves. EF does not understand this.

Something @JulianArancia  said at Sex 2.0 keeps coming back to me, especially in relation to EF: “In the PR world it’s always the cover-up that kills you”. There’s even an EdenFallacys.com now because of all the shit they have been pulling. If they had apologized and stopped their unethical linking once it was brought to their attention? It probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. Still a problem, but they would have addressed the concerns in a better way. If EF let us know that they were listening to our concerns and actually addressed them without lies, that would be a whole other issue.

Now, I’ve been on the wrong end of things before, said things that was taken wrongly and offended people. I get how defensive that makes you, I get how hurt you feel when people start attacking you, I get it. However, companies have PR people trained to deal with this kind of stuff, or at very least can hire one when they need one. There is no excuse for a company to react defensively or make backhanded comments, there is especially no excuse for trying to cover up their unethical behavior.

I also get that EF is a business, that they can do whatever they like in terms of that, but that doesn’t give them license to go against Google Webmaster Guidelines and do something completely unethical (and then say they aren’t in violation of GWG). It also doesn’t give them license to not pay people who have worked for them like they did with AAG.

(Also, as a sidenote regarding linking practices, I’ve heard people mention that WordPress (WP) automatically sets “nofollow” to links and saying that is just as bad or the same as EF’s javascript redirects. This is not the case. WP does set “nofollow” to comment links (ONLY comment links) to try and discourage spam. This is not the same as using sneaky javascript redirects that look like real links but aren’t. Setting links “nofollow” is acceptable to GWG, javascript cloaking links is not. It’s not like every link on a WP site is set “nofollow,” but if you are worried about it there is a plugin called DoFollow which corrects this.)

EF has proven time and time again that they do not do what they say, they change their policies at a moment’s notice once it doesn’t line up with the way they actually are running the business. They use the guise of transparency to be rude and negative and then turn around and cover up an issue without actually addressing the fact that what they are doing is highly unethical. They do not have the best interests of their contributors, employees, or customers at heart they are just in it for the money. While this is an understandable business policy what I am opposed to is the fact that they promote themselves as community-oriented, woman-friendly, and sex-positive while clearly using these terms as a business tactic and not an actual philosophy.

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2 Comments

  1. Good point about nofolloow — definitely not the same thing at all.

    And yeah, the way EF (or should I say EF’s president) chose to handle the situation is just ridiculous. Denying people the opportunity to even SPEAK about the issue is just really, really rude, and does not make any sense with their supposed philosophy of fostering community.
    .-= Epiphora´s last blog ..Jack-off Journal #7 =-.

  2. My oh my. Intense.. Insane… Just out right … GAH! I can’t find words. These things pisses me off so much!

    That TEDtalk is spot on, I’ve watched it before. The Obama thing is spot on.

    I will be rewriting this and linking loads as well.

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