March 20, 2006 7:38 PM PST

Advocacy group shames adware advertisers

Expanding its campaign against unwanted adware, an advocacy group on Monday publicly shamed advertisers who use adware to promote their products.

Advertising money is what keeps the makers of adware in business, and advertisers should be more scrupulous, the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based public advocacy group, said Monday. Adware is software that pops up ads, can slow down PCs and often creeps onto computers without user knowledge.

"Knowingly or not, these companies are fueling the spread of unwanted programs that clog people's computers, threaten privacy and tarnish the Internet experience for millions," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the group. "Our goal is to eventually cut the funding for adware off at the source."

While recognizing that ads might pass through several third parties, such as ad agencies and affiliate networks, the CDT on Monday published names of more than a dozen companies that it found advertised through adware. These include well-known names such as Club Med, eHarmony.com, Netflix, NetZero and PeoplePC.

"We're urging advertisers to be more vigilant to ensure that they aren't unwittingly bankrolling one of the Internet's fastest-growing problems," Schwartz said.

The public shaming of advertisers by the CDT follows the suggestion last month by Jon Leibowitz, a commissioner of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, of public humiliation as punishment for companies that use adware to promote their wares.

The CDT sent letters to the chief executives of 18 companies whose ads appeared on adware from 180solutions, one of the largest makers of Internet advertising software. The CDT in January filed a complaint with the FTC, charging 180solutions with engaging in unfair and deceptive business practices.

The CDT asked the companies if they had a policy regarding advertising through adware. The names of those that did not respond to the inquiry were published Monday. The other companies on the list are: matchmakers True.com, PerfectMatch.com and LetsTalk.com; uBid; ProFlowers; GreetingCards.com; Altrec and Waterfront Media.

Of the companies listed by CDT, only Netflix, cell phone Web site LetsTalk.com and Altrec, an online vendor of outdoor wear, responded to a request for comment from CNET News.com.

Netflix "strictly forbids" advertising via adware or spyware, spokesman Steve Swasey said Tuesday. "When it happens, it is placed there without our knowledge or approval. And Netflix cracks down very hard when we find it," he said.

Netflix, an online DVD rental store, actively monitors where its ads appear, but has been unable to fully control all the third parties that place its ads, Swasey said. "This is an industry problem," he said. "It is a new and evolving technology, and it is very complex."

Both LetsTalk and Altrex acknowledged advertising through 180solutions adware.

"We've made the decision to no longer work with 180solutions," Delly Tamer, founder and CEO of LetsTalk, said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. The company is cutting back all of its marketing via applications such as adware, Tamer said.

Altrec CEO Mike Morford said his company has a negligible relationship with 180solutions. "Altrec has in the first quarter of 2006 spent a total of $440 with 180solutions," he said in a telephone interview on Monday. Morford could not say if Altrec would continue advertising through adware or if his company has a policy against that.

180solutions rebuked the notion that its software is unwanted by consumers. The company has worked to make its software visible to users and to display alerts when it's installed, 180solutions CEO Keith Smith said in a statement. "Yet despite all of this, some retain the uninformed notion that our users are duped into installing our software," he said.

The CDT will continue its efforts against adware and its more nefarious cousin spyware, Schwartz said. The group is talking to FTC commissioners about its report next week and also plans to share the information with state attorneys general, he said.

See more CNET content tagged:
180Solutions, adware, Ari Schwartz, advertiser, NetFlix Inc.

6 comments

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ISP Blacklist ...
Why can't ISP simply blacklist the IP used by adwares to communicate silently with their base using RBLs just like we do for spam ?

It would starve them off ! After all, ad/spywares are significantly impacting their customer's online experience, not to mention the cost in customer support.

Sure, if someone wants spywares, being keylogged, flashy ads all over the place and blue screens, he should have the ability to disable the function.
Posted by My-Self (242 comments )
Reply Link Flag
because of $$$
Same reason many ISPs won't cut off the big spammers --
they look the other way since they make money off of it.
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
Link Flag
ISP Blacklist - Spyware RBL ...
Why can't ISP simply blacklist the IP used by adwares to communicate silently with their base using RBLs just like we do for spam ?

It would starve them off ! After all, ad/spywares are significantly impacting their customer's online experience, not to mention the cost in customer support.

Sure, if someone wants spywares, being keylogged, flashy ads all over the place and blue screens, he should have the ability to disable the function.
Posted by My-Self (242 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Try Peer Guardian
It is software that blocks traffic to certain companies. Although, intending mainly to block those companies suing P2Pers, it also block known Adware/Spyware URLs. It actually works pretty good for that purpose.

As for ISP, blocking is a tricky thing. I get zero spam. Absolutely none. How? I run my own mail server and block all IPs from Europe and Asia. Can an ISP do that? Only if they have no clients that do business in Europe and Asia.

The fact is blocking has false positives and only works when focused on the individual.
Posted by umbrae (1073 comments )
Link Flag
Camino: Adware Beater is Faster
Mac netizens who use the Camino browser are not only able to opt out of having pop-ups uglify their life on the net, the latest release also prevents in-page ads from appearing and all associated adware garbage from showing up on their hard drives. Camino can transformed your browsing experience. Much of the delay in page rendering is due to ad server latentcy. The adsters are busy, overworked and slow little beavers. Add the CamiTools extension and you can update the ad server list at will. More about this at pgl.yoyo.org/adservers
Posted by kb1glr (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We don't have a relation...
"Altrec has in the first quarter of 2006 spent a total of $440 with 180solutions," Altrec CEO Mike Morford said in a telephone interview. "Reality is, at $440 we don't have a relationship with them."

Ok, then how much did you spend last year?

To myself, $440 is a relationship as adware stuff like this is cheap. At a penny (or less)per page view, that would mean 44,000 people had to suffer. And that would just be "First Quarter 2006" and just your company alone. So, answer this: What is your cost to profit ratio on these ads?

I guess ethics really has no place in business, unless you are using as a cop out reason to fire someone who has them.
Posted by (8 comments )
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