“A company that helps you find the perfect credit card is now worth $1 billion,” said a recent headline in Business Insider:
Credit Karma, a credit-tracking personal finance site, raised $75 million on Monday in a new round of funding that values the company at more than $1 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The new funding, coming just six months after its $85 million Series C, was led by Google Capital, Tiger Global Management, and Susquehanna Growth Equity. The 7-year-old company now has raised over $193 million.
Credit Karma is one of the big players in credit card affiliate marketing. Another big one is a company called Bankrate.com. BankRate owns CreditCards.com, a credit card marketing site disguised as a credit card advice site.
What else does BankRate own? In the words of its SEC filing:
Our unique content and rate information is distributed through three main sources: our owned and operated websites, online co-brands, and print partners. We own a network of content-rich, proprietary websites focused on specific vertical categories, including mortgages, deposits, insurance, credit cards and other personal finance categories.
If you scroll down a bit further you see this:
Since 2010, we have executed several acquisitions, including two important acquisitions of NetQuote Holdings, Inc. (“NetQuote”) and CreditCards.com, Inc. (“CreditCards”) enabling us to strengthen our offering to both advertisers seeking high quality leads and consumers who are looking for a comprehensive suite of financial products. These acquisitions have strengthened our position through increased selection of products and increased scale of our audience resulting in greater appeal to personal financial services partners and greater spending per partner.
So they own a “network of content-rich, proprietary websites”, yet they only list one acquisition, CreditCards.com. That means there are other sites they own that are not listed here.
Who else do you suppose they own? We can only wonder since they own sites that are too small to require public disclosure ((publicly traded companies don’t need to disclose acquisitions unless said acquisitions are sufficiently large.). It wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out they actually own bloggers, bloggers believed by the public to be independent. We know they don’t own Frugal Travel Guy–that’s owned by Internet Brands. We know they don’t own BoardingArea.com–that’s owned by that guy Randy.
Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess.
Imagine you read the newspaper (remember those?) every morning for years. Imagine the newspaper frequently prints great reviews of Chevrolets and points out how a Chevrolet could really help you and your family.
Now imagine you find out that the newspaper is owned by the local Chevy dealership, but they concealed this fact from you. Does that strike you as ethical?
Imagine reading your favorite blogger every day only to find out that they (or rather, their website) is owned by BankRate.com or CreditCards.com–how would you feel then?
Those of you reading this might want to check with your favorite bloggers. Ask them–very politely, of course, this isn’t a witch hunt–is your website owned by you, or by somebody else?