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LuisPR
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 24, 2005 5:48 pm    Post subject: Vonage Caught in Major Spyware Bust Reply with quote Back to top

The Associated Press/ALBANY, N.Y.

By MICHAEL GORMLEY
Associated Press Writer


Major advertisers caught in spyware net


JUN. 24 2:43 P.M. ET Unwanted software slithered into Patti McMann's home computer over the Internet and unleashed an annoying barrage of pop-up ads that sometimes flashed on her screen faster than she could close them.

Annoying, for sure. But the last straw came a year ago when the pop-ups began plugging such household names as J.C. Penney Co. and Capital One Financial Corp., companies McMann expected to know better.

Didn't they realize that trying to reach people through spyware and its ad-delivering subset, called adware, would only alienate them?

"It irritated the heck out of me," said McMann, a 45-year-old former corporate executive from Klamath Falls, Ore. "It took a week to take off every little piece of crap that was put on my computer. Every time I rebooted, it started to come up again."

Pop-up ads carried by spyware and adware aren't just employed by fringe companies hawking dubious wares -- such as those tricky messages that tell you your computer has been corrupted.

You can count some big tech companies among its users, including broadband phone provider Vonage Holdings Corp., online employment agency Monster Worldwide Inc. and online travel agencies Expedia Inc., Priceline.com Inc. and Orbitz LLC.

These companies acknowledge they've used adware to reach potential customers, though they say they shun any programs that monitor online surfing or extract personal information.

Even Fortune 500 companies have turned to adware: Sprint Corp. for its PCS mobile phones, major banks peddling Visa credit cards, Sony Corp. and retailers including Circuit City Stores Inc. And Mercedes-Benz USA had its cars flashing on consumer's computer screens before the company, fielding complaints, put on the brakes.

Attempts to reach officials at J.C. Penney and Capital One about their use of adware pop-ups were unavailing. Neither returned repeated calls for comment.

Spyware and adware often land on computers without their owners' full knowledge, hitching a ride during visits to porn and gambling sites or in downloads of free games and screensavers. Often, the payload arrives with downloads of cartoon-character wares aimed at children.

Infected computer users can get barraged with pop-up ads and find the unwanted programs difficult to remove.

So far, law enforcement has mostly targeted the transmitters. Intermix Media Inc. has agreed to pay $7.5 million in a tentative settlement of a lawsuit by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

But Spitzer isn't stopping there. He is threatening to hold accountable household-name advertisers that use adware networks. No longer, says Spitzer, can companies play dumb.

That's making many advertisers nervous, though they insist they work with subcontractors and often don't know about any adware use until they get a complaint.

"There's plausible deniability at each tier," said Chris King, product marketing manager at anti-spyware vendor Blue Coat Systems Inc.

Big-time online advertising is built on layers: A big advertiser, such as a Fortune 500 company, directs an agency to handle a campaign. The agency then farms that message out to specialists in various media, which can include spyware and adware purveyors.

"We do everything we can to make sure our partners adhere to our standards," said Jeffrey Citron, Vonage's chief executive.

Yet a pop-up ad for Vonage appeared in a screen shot that Spitzer used in his case against Intermix. Citron said he was unaware of the ad and promised to look into it, as he said the company does with similar complaints.

Mercedes-Benz says its ad was carried to hard drives last year by an agency it has since fired, while computer maker Dell USA has fired "a handful" of affiliates for carrying Dell's coupons and ads over adware.

"This is not a practice we condone," said Dell spokeswoman Jennifer Davis.

Dave Methvin, chief technology officer with tech diagnostic site PC Pitstop, said problems are no surprise given the many layers involved, but big advertisers have the clout to stop them.

"If you're going to be a good corporate citizen, part of your responsibility is to make sure that kind of thing doesn't happen rather than to say it's three levels down," Methvin said. "If a big company advertising on the Internet makes all of its suppliers down the chain sign a statement (and agree to penalties for breaking the rules), quickly the problem would go away."

It's not just big advertisers who have ties to spyware and adware.

Yahoo Inc. made a deal with adware company Claria Corp., formerly known as Gator Corp., to provide search listings for its SearchScout toolbar. The popular search engines Ask Jeeves and Google also benefit from adware, says Internet researcher Benjamin Edelman.

He says an Ask Jeeves toolbar generates ads without users' full consent, while Google's search listings appear in queries made through a questionable third-party toolbar. Ask Jeeves and Google officials dispute Edelman's account and say they don't use any spyware or adware. Company policy bans the use of adware by Google, said spokesman Barry Schnitt.

Several states have adopted anti-spyware bills, and the U.S. House approved two in May that carry jail sentences of up to five years in prison. The bills, which don't target advertisers, are now before the Senate, where similar legislation died last year.

While Spitzer and some lawmakers in Alaska, Pennsylvania and Utah say advertisers should also be held accountable, not everyone agrees.

"So many people have such antipathy toward adware and spyware vendors that it blinds them to the underlying legal principles," said Eric Goldman, a cyber law professor at Marquette University.

He said any liability would be unprecedented and would be akin to holding an advertiser responsible for libel by the newspaper in which the ad appears.

Some advertisers defend the practice.

"It is just a marketing tool that we use," said Expedia spokesman David Dennis.

Expedia, like many other adware users, insists it has rigorous standards and checks to make sure customers want their ads and can easily remove the software if they don't. Dennis said the company works closely with its ad agencies to make sure.

Melinda Tiemeyer, spokeswoman for Sprint PCS, said Internet users have clicked on ads delivered by adware, meaning they find them useful. Sprint is OK with using adware because users, she said, accept it in exchange for phone service offers and discounts.

But other advertisers including Netflix Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. have changed their attitudes.

"I think it was more of a realization that this was becoming more of a concern in consumers' eyes and there was a growing level of frustration," said John Bonomo of Verizon, which discontinued adware last July. Still, "it was effective," he said.

"Clearly folks are uncomfortable about it," Edelman said. "Everyone knows that everyone hates pop-ups ... eventually companies just got embarrassed, especially when they get on your computer through this kind of trickery."


Last edited by LuisPR on Mon Jun 27, 2005 3:41 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 24, 2005 7:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

I think you will find, in the case of Vonage, that it was a bad affiliate doing this and not vonage.com

I for one am glad that Vonage is looking into this.

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NovaRod
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 24, 2005 9:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

Whoever does spam are nothing but low life Ba**ards. Evil or Very Mad
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bjmiguel
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 24, 2005 10:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

that's true... affiliates trying to gain money are the ones at fault, not Vonage
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LuisPR
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 25, 2005 3:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

bjmiguel wrote:
that's true... affiliates trying to gain money are the ones at fault, not Vonage


Are you so sure of that? You make a bold statement, prove it.
I think Vonage has enjoyed a nice comfort zone in this quite game.
Come Monday, this will be major news. Even Slashdot will cover this one.

Prove me wrong if you can.

hmm, we will have no comment on this, I am sure. LOL
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cid92
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 25, 2005 9:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

The company that "developed" the Aurora spyware/adware program, BetterInternet LLC, to this day claims they have done nothing wrong and that they are just a marketing firm and that their software is not spyware/adware nor is it malicious in any way. Aurora is hands down one of the nastiest pieces of spyware/adware you can get and it is difficult to remove if you don't know what you are doing yet the company claims it's very easy to remove from your system. What a crock. I've had to remove it on several occasions and if you don't do it right, it's back on your machine and you get to start all over.

So what you are saying is that any company that decided to advertise with BetterInternet is just as guilty as BetterInternet when spyware/adware gets loaded on your machine even when BetterInternet claims that sometimes they use third party software that they don't regulate?

Sure Vonage was, and is looking, for avenues to market their service but you can't necessarily hold them accountable for the actions or stupid agreements that their marketing firms take. What you can hold Vonage accountable for is getting out of the marketing deals like the one they are in where spyware/adware may be involved. According to the posted article, both Netflix and Verizon have used companies that employed spyware/adware but are changing their minds and have gotten away from using it even though the Verizon spokesperson said it was effective. They were aware that popups with their name on it were cauing more frustration than the benefits they were deriving from it. Credit for them for dumping the service. Hopefully Vonage will do the same.

Lastly, I hold the computer users accountable on this issue as well. If you bothered to use a good anti-virus and anti-apyware program, you'd never see a popup - or at least you'd see fewer of them. Ignorance is not an excuse. If you don't know what "dangers" are out there on the web, find out or hire someone to protect you from it.
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Medic63
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 25, 2005 10:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

I, for one, don't get a lot of pop-up advertising. That is one of the nice features of Firefox. I also use Spyware Blaster, Spybot Search & Destroy, Ad-Aware, and Microsoft Anti-Spyware. The worst thing I've had on my system since it was new has been those "evil" tracking cookies. Big deal. I see cookies as more of a feature than a threat, anyway. They often save me the effort of having to log-in every time I visit certain sites.

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bjmiguel
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 25, 2005 12:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

LuisPR wrote:
bjmiguel wrote:
that's true... affiliates trying to gain money are the ones at fault, not Vonage


Are you so sure of that? You make a bold statement, prove it.
I think Vonage has enjoyed a nice comfort zone in this quite game.
Come Monday, this will be major news. Even Slashdot will cover this one.

Prove me wrong if you can.

hmm, we will have no comment on this, I am sure. LOL



if you have the chance to earn money and you're familiar on doing this spywares/adwares, wouldn't you do the same thing? ...let's not immediately point our finger to the company. that's all i have to say
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 27, 2005 1:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

Aurora is a freaking menace! That is not adware, imho, it's a virus...
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