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Advocacy group shames adware advertisers

Center for Democracy and Technology lists advertisers who, it says, help fund the widely despised software.

Expanding its campaign against unwanted adware, an advocacy group on Monday publicly shamed advertisers who use adware to promote their products.

Advertising money is what keeps the makers of adware in business, and advertisers should be more scrupulous, the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based public advocacy group, said Monday. Adware is software that pops up ads, can slow down PCs and often creeps onto computers without user knowledge.

"Knowingly or not, these companies are fueling the spread of unwanted programs that clog people's computers, threaten privacy and tarnish the Internet experience for millions," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the group. "Our goal is to eventually cut the funding for adware off at the source."

While recognizing that ads might pass through several third parties, such as ad agencies and affiliate networks, the CDT on Monday published names of more than a dozen companies that it found advertised through adware. These include well-known names such as Club Med,, Netflix, NetZero and PeoplePC.

"We're urging advertisers to be more vigilant to ensure that they aren't unwittingly bankrolling one of the Internet's fastest-growing problems," Schwartz said.

The public shaming of advertisers by the CDT follows the suggestion last month by Jon Leibowitz, a commissioner of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, of public humiliation as punishment for companies that use adware to promote their wares.

The CDT sent letters to the chief executives of 18 companies whose ads appeared on adware from 180solutions, one of the largest makers of Internet advertising software. The CDT in January filed a complaint with the FTC, charging 180solutions with engaging in unfair and deceptive business practices.

The CDT asked the companies if they had a policy regarding advertising through adware. The names of those that did not respond to the inquiry were published Monday. The other companies on the list are: matchmakers, and; uBid; ProFlowers;; Altrec and Waterfront Media.

Of the companies listed by CDT, only Netflix, cell phone Web site and Altrec, an online vendor of outdoor wear, responded to a request for comment from CNET

Netflix "strictly forbids" advertising via adware or spyware, spokesman Steve Swasey said Tuesday. "When it happens, it is placed there without our knowledge or approval. And Netflix cracks down very hard when we find it," he said.

Netflix, an online DVD rental store, actively monitors where its ads appear, but has been unable to fully control all the third parties that place its ads, Swasey said. "This is an industry problem," he said. "It is a new and evolving technology, and it is very complex."

Both LetsTalk and Altrex acknowledged advertising through 180solutions adware.

"We've made the decision to no longer work with 180solutions," Delly Tamer, founder and CEO of LetsTalk, said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. The company is cutting back all of its marketing via applications such as adware, Tamer said.

Altrec CEO Mike Morford said his company has a negligible relationship with 180solutions. "Altrec has in the first quarter of 2006 spent a total of $440 with 180solutions," he said in a telephone interview on Monday. Morford could not say if Altrec would continue advertising through adware or if his company has a policy against that.

180solutions rebuked the notion that its software is unwanted by consumers. The company has worked to make its software visible to users and to display alerts when it's installed, 180solutions CEO Keith Smith said in a statement. "Yet despite all of this, some retain the uninformed notion that our users are duped into installing our software," he said.

The CDT will continue its efforts against adware and its more nefarious cousin spyware, Schwartz said. The group is talking to FTC commissioners about its report next week and also plans to share the information with state attorneys general, he said.