Adware Firms Up The Ante On Anti-Spyware
In February and March of this year, at least six companies have complained to anti-adware Web sites and adware removal companies, according to a report posted by spyware consultant Ben Edelman. The report, on Edelman's Web site, lists just two companies that complained against anti-adware outfits last year. The adware companies' complaints have ranged from accusations of posting inaccurate information to interfering in their business relations with consumers.
Additionally, adware operations are increasingly asking that their software no longer be uninstalled by adware/spyware removal companies. For instance, Computer Associates' PestPatrol now gets at least one request for review per week from an adware company--up from one a month a year ago, said Roger Thompson, director of malicious content research for the company.
The moves come at a time when spyware and adware companies are in the headlines more and more. Not only is Congress considering anti-spyware legislation, but the public at large is showing a heightened awareness of the industry. A study by Bigfoot Interactive released earlier this month revealed that 55 percent of online users said they had been infected with spyware, and 82 percent believed it posed a threat to online privacy.
Adware researcher Eric Howes, who runs the site Spyware Warrior.com, added that he's getting more and more calls these days from adware companies seeking to "reopen discussions" with him. He said he has so far declined to reclassify any adware companies.
Thompson said that PestPatrol conducts reviews of all programs it removes every 90 days, and that it also takes a second look when companies request this. PestPatrol software temporarily stops uninstalling the programs while the company reconsiders their status--as recently happened with Claria. But, Thompson said, the vast majority of companies seeking review fail to persuade PestPatrol to remove them from the uninstall program.
Two weeks ago, adware company DirectRevenue joined the growing roster of businesses to try to convince an anti-spyware site to remove material. The site, Spyware Warrior, had listed MyPCTuneUp.com--owned by DirectRevenue--as a "rogue/suspect" removal tool, based in part on what Spyware Warrior called "dubious corp. CQ associations."
A lawyer for DirectRevenue sent a March 18 e-mail to Howes requesting that the site stop "making inaccurate statements," about MyPCTuneUp. The letter--which characterized MyPCTuneUp as the "most effective way" to remove DirectRevenue's software--accused Howes of "causing substantial harm to an entire industry that is striving to give end users accurate information regarding the installation and removal of certain software."
Daniel Doman, Direct Revenue's chief technology officer, said the company just wanted to make sure that consumers weren't deterred from uninstalling with MyPCTuneUp. He said that the program doesn't install any other software, but leaves behind a tag indicating that DirectRevenue was once on the computer. With that tag, users cannot later reinstall DirectRevenue. "If a user uninstalls us, we're not going to reinstall ourselves," Doman said.
After receiving the letter, Howes delisted MyPCTuneUp from the "rogue/suspect" section of the site. He said he did so because that section wasn't intended for vendor-supplied uninstallers. Spyware Warrior still includes information about the product--and the legal correspondence from DirectRevenue--on a page devoted to other delisted programs.
Joshua Abram, DirectRevenue's CEO, sent Howes a letter by e-mail dated Wednesday, thanking him for removing the program from the "rogue/suspect" list.
Howes said Wednesday that he fulfilled his goal--"which was to continue offering information about that uninstaller." He added that complying with DirectRevenue's request gave him some breathing room. "I don't want to be going head-to-head with some New York law firm," he said.
In any event, said Howes, the public tide seems to have turned against adware/spyware companies. "The walls are closing in ... from all sides," he said. "We're actually doing a lot of damage to them."