November 17, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Will certification legitimize adware?

WASHINGTON--Backers of a new plan to police downloads believe it will put an end to unwanted software that launches pop-up ads and hogs system resources. But critics counter that the program will merely legitimize such software, not make it go away.

The Trusted Download Program, announced here Wednesday, promises to help people avoid adware and spyware by guaranteeing an application does only what it says. The plan's sponsors--mostly large Internet companies--said the program will kick off in a trial version early next year when online privacy watchdog group Truste publishes its first list of certified applications.

"We think this will be the end of unwanted software on your computer," Fran Maier, executive director of Truste, said at an event at the National Press Club here. "Consumers deserve to have control over what's on their computers."

News.context

What's new:
A new certification program backed by industry and lawmakers promises to help people avoid adware and spyware by guaranteeing that a program does what it says.

Bottom line:
Critics say that instead of hindering annoying downloads, the plan will only give such software a seal of approval.

More stories on spyware and adware

On the industry side, the plan is backed by America Online, Yahoo, Computer Associates, Verizon Communications and CNET Networks (parent company of News.com). FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz and the Center for Democracy & Technology, a public advocacy group that runs the Anti-Spyware Coalition, have also got behind the push.

The plan also has congressional support from U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., who have both proposed anti-spyware legislation.

"I am delighted to see that we have come this far and that the private sector has come up with a solution to a problem that truly stifles commerce on the Internet," Bono said Wednesday. "This is the first time I think we can truly move forward and provide the safety on the Internet that's needed."

But despite its high-profile backers, the plan won't put an end to ad-serving downloads that suck up system resources, critics say. Instead, it will give those applications a seal of approval.

"The problem is that Truste is, in effect, legitimizing adware," said Alex Eckelberry, the president of Sunbelt Software, maker of the CounterSpy anti-spyware tool. "Adware companies such as Claria and WhenU--assuming they get certified--will now have the ability to greatly increase their distribution network, under the cloak of certification."

The Trusted Download Program won't blacklist adware or spyware. Instead, it will give a seal of approval to software that adheres to certain rules. To be certified, makers of the software have to clearly communicate what their product does. The consumer then has to consent prior to download and again when installing the software.

Trust makers

For example, software that displays advertisements or tracks user behavior must disclose what type of ads will be displayed and what information will be tracked, according to the program's backers. The disclosure must also include which user settings may be altered, and must obtain consent for the download.

Furthermore, easy instructions to uninstall the software must be provided and displayed ads must be labeled with the name of the ad-serving software.

180Solutions and Direct Revenue, which make software that serves up ads, were quick to announce Wednesday that they would seek the Trusted Download Program approval. If they are successful, the companies hope their products will no longer be removed by anti-spyware software.

"These criteria represent legitimate best practices and are backed by some of the biggest consumer-facing software companies in the world. We urge anti-spyware companies to use this certification to better distinguish between legitimate downloadable software and nefarious programs," Keith Smith, chief executive of 180Solutions, said in a statement.

The software industry has been trying for some time to draw a line between spyware and adware, which are used to describe software that track people's online activity and sometimes deliver ads to screens. They are both widely disliked for their surreptitious distribution tactics, unauthorized data gathering, consumption of computer processing power and other annoying features.

5 comments

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Sunbelt Software is probably correct
This program to certify adware companies will likely increase the amount of resource robbing adware that clogs the average user's computer. On the other hand, the fact that these adware scoundrels will have to ask if they can install their software on your computer may raise the awareness level of users about what is sneaking onto their machines.

Only time will tell.
Posted by Arbalest05 (83 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do we trust TrustE?
I'm sorry but I just don't trust that company.

In the past they have given legitimacy to companies with horrendous privacy policies.

I can only imagine which adware purveyors will pay lip service to reforming while having their apps do the dirty work.

I remember the mantra..."'tis better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission"

and that's what these malware purveyors use as their guide.

What they have done in the past is shown complete disregard for consumers and put profit over people everytime.

Companies that were built on this foundation are sure to repeat their steps.
Posted by jachamp (84 comments )
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Adware certification
I can forsee the adware companies using deceptive names and reasons for allowing them to install. What monitoring program has TrustE set up to assure continued compliance? The adware companies have shown themselves to be amoral and they are going to find a way around TrustE without a montitoring program.

As we know, a *lot* of computer users are not sophisticated enough about technology and the Internet (the continued proliferation of malware through spam--somebody's gotta be making it worth their time) to make an informed decision as to what they are installing. If there is going to be a "white list", I think the spyware/adware removal tools should identify it, notify the user that it is *certified* software, what it does, any information it gathers, and specifically who at what web address, gets that information. I will not use an anti-spyware/adware that does not identify these programs, and will continue to be leery of free downloads.
Posted by kenny-J (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You know what will come of this...
...adware companies will become certified and, while a small percentage of their downloads will meet the certification requiremnents, continue to surreptitiously install software AFTER their software has been removed from the anti-spyware tool's lists. What a great way to hide your malware!
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What's in a name?
IMO, the Trusted Download Program has as much chance of
being sidely accepted as the MS Trustworthy Computing
program. I "trust" these self serving groups to take very good
care to promote the programs and agenda of its members.

What's the term (supposedly coined by Steve Ballmer) for this
kind of situation? BOGU?
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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