CDT Report Untangles Nuisance Adware Business Model
Though still early, 2006 is shaping up to be a landmark year in the ongoing battle against spyware and unwanted adware. The array of public interest advocates, technologists and high-tech companies working together to combat the program continues to grow as anti-spyware advocates become more sophisticated in their efforts to protect consumers and expose malicious distributors.
Law enforcement at every level continues to pursue bad actors for illegal activity, even as public interest advocates ratchet up public pressure on the companies that support and/or distribute unwanted software.
CDT released a report in March that took a new approach to the problem of nuisance adware.
In "Following the Money: How Advertising Dollars Encourage Nuisance and Harmful Adware and What Can be Done to Reverse the Trend," CDT details how -- through a complicated network of intermediaries -- major advertisers pay to have their products and services advertised though pop-ups and other ads generated by unwanted advertising software or "adware." The report dissects the financial relationships behind those arrangements and identifies several mainstream companies that advertise through one particularly unscrupulous adware distributor.
The report urges all companies that advertise online to adopt and enforce meaningful ad placement policies. It points out that several organizations, including the Interactive Travel Services Association, Major League Baseball, America Online, Dell and Verizon, have established policies that prohibit or discourage the use of nuisance or harmful adware in serving ads, the report found. By adopting such policies and making sure that all of their affiliates abide by them, advertisers can begin to dry up a major source of funding for unwanted adware.
Earlier this year, CDT filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that 180solutions, one of the world's largest adware distributors, had engaged in a pattern of unfair and deceptive trade practices. The complaint detailed how 180solutions and its affiliates had duped countless Internet users into downloading the company's advertising software. In "Following the Money," CDT sought to identify companies that were advertising through 180solutions, and to inquire about their ad placement policies. Two companies responded to CDT's requests by establishing ad placement policies, and five more said they already had policies in place.
Eleven other companies didn't initially respond to CDT's requests, but after the publication of the report, three of those firms contacted CDT to discuss their adware policies and announce that they were no longer doing business with 180solutions.
Updated CDT Adware Report: http://www.cdt.org/privacy/20060320adware.pdf
180solutions Report - January 2006 (large file: 15 MB): http://www.cdt.org/privacy/20060123180complaint.pdf
The Anti-Spyware Coalition in April released two new resources to help consumers and enterprises better protect themselves against spyware and unwanted adware. The coalition also unveiled final plans for an international workshop slated to take place in Ottawa on May 16.
The coalition's two new documents walk consumers and network operators through the steps they should be taking to protect their machines against adware, spyware and other malicious software. The documents -- "Protecting Your Network: Mitigating Spyware in Organizations" and "Protecting Your Computer: Detecting and Avoiding Spyware" -- discuss technological defenses against spyware; safe surfing and network management practices; and techniques for removing unwanted programs once they are installed.
In a related development, the ASC announced that Michael Binder, Canada's Assistant Deputy Minister for Spectrum, Information Technologies and Telecommunications will keynote the Anti-Spyware Coalition's second-ever public meeting and the first to be held outside of the United States, in Ottawa, Ontario May 16. Binder joins some of the world's top spyware experts from academia, the public interest community and the high-tech industry to discuss the state of international anti-spyware efforts, emerging challenges and likely solutions. A full agenda is available online http://www.antispywarecoalition.org.
The Ottawa conference follows on the success of the Anti-Spyware Coalition's first-ever public workshop held in Washington in February. More than 300 people attended that event, which featured a keynote by Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras.
CDT convened the ASC -- which brings academics and public interest advocates together with the worlds foremost anti-spyware companies -- to build stronger relationships within the anti-spyware community and to help provide users with better tools to defend their computers from unwanted software downloads.
ASC Tip Sheets: http://www.antispywarecoalition.org/documents/
Ottawa Meeting Agenda: http://www.antispywarecoalition.org/events/may2006agenda.htm
ASC web site: http://www.antispywarecoalition.org
Launched earlier this year, StopBadware.org -- a project launched by Harvard University's Berkman Center and the Oxford Internet Institute -- is the latest group to set its sights on the spyware problem. Taking a novel approach to the spyware problem, StopBadware joins a growing phalanx of organizations working together to combat unwanted software. CDT Deputy Director Ari Schwartz, who coordinates the Anti-Spyware Coalition and directs CDT's anti-spyware efforts, sits on the advisory board of the StopBadware.org.
StopBadware.org, which collects consumers' accounts of their own experiences with "badware," released its first reports in March. The reports examine four pieces of downloadable software drawn from the thousands of reports filed by visitors to StopBadware.org.
StopBadware.org rated the four software software packages based upon a series of criteria including installation practices, uninstall procedures and effects on normal computer operation. StopBadware.org also examined whether those software packages were installed with appropriate user notice and consent.
The four software packages examined by StopBadware.org were: P2P client "Kazaa", download manager "MediaPipe", spyware detector "SpyAxe" and Screensaver.com offering "Waterfalls 3". All four were found to be unsafe for normal users. StopBadware.org suggested that users do not install any of the software packages that they tested, unless comfortable with the level of risk outlined in the report.
Like the CDT report, the StopBadware.org reports serve to put pressure where it's needed. By exposing software that comes bundled with unwanted adware or spyware, StopBadware.org aims to reduce the number and virulence of unwanted programs infesting user's machines.
StopBadware.org Reports: http://www.stopbadware.org/home/reports
Adware producer Claria (formerly named "Gator") announced on March 21, 2006 that it would sell the adware portion of their business by the end of June and would shift its internal focus to concentrate on a personalized web portal project called PersonalWeb.
As Claria moved in the past few years to distance itself from the stigma of malicious adware, the profitability of the adware market decreased for the company. Industry experts have observed that ad impressions are more difficult to obtain when adware is installed with the knowledge and consent of users.
Claria's divestiture is one of the strongest signals yet that legitimate organizations are moving away from the traditional adware distribution model. Though that can be partly attributed to market forces, mounting anti-spyware efforts by groups like CDT, the Anti-Spyware Coalition and StopBadware.org are putting pressure on companies to clean up their practices, and end relationships with companies that fail to adequately protect Internet users.