The move comes several weeks after FTC Commissioner Jonathan Leibowitz said the agency was considering exposing companies that use adware. "A little shaming here might go a long way," Leibowitz told attendees at a February conference organized by the Anti-Spyware Coalition and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
The CDT maintains that 180solutions uses "deceptive" measures to install its adware; earlier this year, the organization accused 180solutions of turning a blind eye to distributors that installed the adware without consumers' consent, and filed a complaint with the FTC.
180solutions President Dan Todd disputed that the company's installation practices were problematic. He said that the company offered programs that consumers wanted in exchange for their agreement to view ads, and that 180solutions has undertaken a variety of initiatives designed to ensure that its ad-serving software doesn't end up on desktops without the owners' permission. "Our consumers," Todd said, "install us to see all the free content we provide them."
In the report, "Following the Money," the CDT characterized unwanted adware as a "serious threat to the future of Internet communication," and called on marketers to take responsibility for how their ads are displayed.
"One of the most troubling aspects of this phenomenon is that the companies fueling it are some of the largest, best-known companies in the world," stated the report.
For the report, the CDT worked with spyware researcher Ben Edelman to determine which marketers were appearing on pop-up ads served by 180solutions. The CDT then contacted 18 such companies and seven responded, including dating site eHarmony and online movie rental company Netflix.
eHarmony reportedly told the CDT that it set policies in accordance with the Interactive Advertising Bureau--which apparently does not have a policy about adware. The IAB did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
The CDT said that Netflix told the organization it expressly prohibits displaying ads on adware or software, yet its ads apparently continued to be served by 180solutions while the CDT was investigating.
"It is important to note that Netflix is one of the largest online advertisers that CDT contacted. To CDT, this illustrates the difficulty large companies have in enforcing their policies," stated the report.
The other 11 marketers contacted didn't respond to the CDT. They include True.com, PerfectMatch, and eHarmony; comparison shopping site LetsTalk.com; travel company Club Med Americas; e-commerce/auction sites uBid.com, ProFlowers, GreetingCards.com and Altrec; Internet service providers NetZero and PeoplePC; and Web publisher Waterfront Media.