180solutions has long been in the crosshairs of anti-spyware groups. The Bellevue, Wash., company makes the 180search Assistant and Zango Search Assistant applications that deliver pop-up ads to users as they perform Web searches. While the company distributes Zango on its own, 180solutions relies on about 8,000 third parties to distribute 180search. Those parties get paid for each installation of the software.
As is common with adware, many Internet users may have unwittingly installed 180solutions' products. Some adware pushers have buried download disclosures in lengthy legalese; installed software surreptitiously through Web browser security holes; disguised their brands; or made it tough for users to uninstall the pop-up programs.
180solutions blames "rogue distributors" for surreptitious installs of its software. Seeking to distance itself from such practices, the company hasof its former partners and cut relationships with about 500 of its 8,000 distributors since early this year.
The company on Wednesday announced that it has updated the 180search Assistant and the Zango Search Assistant to prevent hidden installs of the software. The applications include new "Safe and Secure Search" technology that prevents suppression or manipulation of the user confirmation when installing the products, it said.
"Today's announcement marks the biggest technological step we've taken to date to reduce fraudulent installations," Daniel Todd, president and co-founder of 180solutions, said in the statement.
Critics are skeptical about 180solutions' intentions.
"I consider this announcement largely a PR ploy designed to obtain favorable coverage," said, a Harvard Law School student, as well as an adware and spyware researcher. "No reasonable user would want the extra pop-ups 180solutions delivers, so it has to resort to trickery, rhetoric and sleight of hand to get its software installed."
180solutions promises should be viewed with caution, said Alex Eckelberry, president of anti-spyware software maker Sunbelt Software. "Every few months, 180solutions announces a new reform that will supposedly make its installation practices kosher. This has been going on for over a year, and at the end of all previous efforts, we still have examples of unethical installs," he said.
All new 180solutions distributors have to distribute the updated application, existing partners have until the end of the year to switch, 180solutions said. After the Dec. 31 cut-off date, distributors will no longer get paid for installs of the older applications, it said. 180solutions software is installed on about 20 million PCs, the company said.
To alert users that they have the ad-serving software installed, 180solutions will display a message on PCs within 72 hours after installation and every 90 days, the company said. The message explains that the software displays pop-up ads and offers a link to uninstall the software. 180solutions started displaying such notifications.