It’s no secret that Vani Hari (the “Food Babe”) makes money from pushing certain products on her web site. Also common knowledge is the fact she uses scare tactics to frighten people away from safe and nutritious products in order to drive them toward those from which she’ll earn sales commissions.
What may be slipping through the cracks is just how pervasive this process is, especially now that the Babe is encrypting her product affiliation information before presenting it on her web site.
Let’s look at her recent article, “Do You Know What’s Really in Your Tea?”1 In a future article I’ll examine the hypocrisy in Hari’s recommending tea at all, since it contains one of the highest concentrations of aluminum in all food,2 and she falsely claims aluminum is toxic.3 If you’d like a primer on the safety of ingesting aluminum, check out my article here. But for now let’s concentrate on how Hari hides her relationship with Amazon customers. In her article, after countless paragraphs of lies and misinformation on the dangers of just about every tea in the world, we come to this:
You can bet your arse she recommends looking at this chart! We’re about to find out why. This nice graphic tells us that “Numi”, “Rishi”, and “Traditional Medicinals” are, apparently, the safest drinks around. No check marks for these three!
Then, here comes the confirmation–conveniently linked to Amazon.com for purposes of placing orders are these same three teas:
But where’s the Vani Hari connection? If you hover your mouse pointer over the linked product names and look carefully at your web browser, all you see is what looks like an innocent Amazon URL (“Uniform Resource Locator”… the way web pages are found on the Internet):
“amzn.to/16LydJk”… no apparent ties to Food Babe here, right?
Wrong. Let’s look at the “page source”… the hypertext markup language (HTML) behind the web page. You can click on the image to enlarge it:
“amzn.to” is a shortened URL used with bit.ly’s “Pro” service.4 “bit.ly” refers to Bitly, a web service company that makes long URLs shorter and easier to read. When you click on a bit.ly link you’re directed to a Bitly-powered server. That server translates the shortened link into something longer, then sends you along your merry way to the intended destination–in this case, Amazon.com. Looks innocent so far, right?
The tie-in to Food Babe comes with the “16LydJk” portion of “amzn.to/16LydJk”. This innocent-looking 7 character code is an encrypted version of a link to an Amazon.com web product page. That encrypted link also contains a Food Babe affiliate ID. This is how Amazon knows that Vani Hari referred you to their web site. When you buy, her cash register goes “ka-ching!”
You may not realize this when you land on Amazon’s web page. Just look at the following screen shot. The Food Babe referral isn’t obvious even though it isn’t encrypted anymore:
… but let’s copy that entire URL (highlighted, above) to the clipboard and take a closer look at it:
See the text “tag=foodbab-20” tacked on at the very end of the decrypted URL, where it couldn’t be seen in the browser’s address bar?
So, when Food Babe builds a web page, she encodes her own affiliate ID along with the Amazon product link. If you’d like to see how that’s done, the entire Amazon affiliate encryption process is simply and elegantly described in this LinkTrackr tutorial.5
Vani Hari… the woman knows no shame. She’s even trying to make a commission on cookware (you can see the stainless steel and glass tea strainer affiliate links encoded in the page markup I showed earlier):
As an exercise, try visiting a Food Babe page and hovering over all the links you find. You’ll be amazed how many products she’s selling. After warning her scientifically challenged army of followers about non-existent dangers in foods, she gets them running to Amazon like lambs to the
slaughter checkout counter.
Screen snapshots of Food Babe and Amazon.com web pages are used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.
Please note: to avoid assisting with search engine exposure for quack web sites, I use the DoNotLink URL obfuscator on certain links. I promise you are not being redirected to porn 🙂
(1) Original Food Babe tea scare article
(2) World Health Organization: Aluminum in Water and Food
(3) Food Babe on Aluminum
(4) “Amazon Goes Pro with bit.ly”
(5) LinkTrackr Amazon affiliate coding tutorial