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Why We Won't Do Adware

by Wayne Porter, Jan Hertsens

Recently there has been a lot of debate on spyware and the ethics of partnerships. Specifically debate on what type of partnerships a security company should entertain. We would love to see anti-spyware companies get together to form a set of ethics and guidelines to help guide these partnerships and would happily attend such a meeting.

We get a sizable number of partnership requests every month and we try to vet these requests as diligently as possible. Sometimes they are from legitimate companies; occasionally they are respected companies who regret a deal they did with a rogue anti-spyware vendor. But some offers as of late could be described as plain weird. Adware companies are pitching us as partners!

Recently we have been approached by not one but two larger adware companies wanting to ?partner? with Xblock. These were not your standard affiliate or reseller opportunities these were ?deep partnerships?- essentially creating private label products to power their own brand of security software. The revenue models were simple. In one pitch the offer was simply increased exposure via a co-branded solution. In the other request the software would be offered for free and there would be a revenue share on the advertising revenue generated.

Our answer to these requests was a simple- "no".

The line is already blurry enough without companies embracing the very problems they are supposed to be solving. This doesn't mean one should not have partnerships, but we would never partner with a company that was using security holes to install their software, or, as the case may be, using affiliates to exploit the security holes and reaping the benefits while claiming innocence.

For that matter we would never partner with a company that generated pop-ups like many adware companies do. This is the very behavior that angers people because it usurps their control. A security solution provider that does this is in grave danger of losing their objectivity. As Eric Howes, a respected spyware researcher puts it- "This is Conflict of Interest 101." Our team agrees.

The reader might ask: "Why would an adware company want to enter the anti-spyware space knowing full well they are targeted by security applications?"  The answer is multi-fold. They can use this to gain respect and legitimacy in the eyes of people, they gain traction with pressing issues, it makes the battlefield even murkier and most importantly they are able to make war on their brethren.

Remember that the spyware/adware problem usually doesn't catch the user's attention until it starts to interfere with their PC?s performance. The reason we are seeing the current epidemic of woe among consumers is commonly because of the effect this software creates when running in aggregate on a machine. (This is assuming they don't have a "high impact" application bringing it to their attention.) I have talked to reporters about this several times but none seem that interested in this aspect of the problem while I consider it key.

If consumers are suffering from the effects of spyware/adware in aggregate one could make a logical deduction that adware companies are entering into the fray in an attempt to destroy their lesser competitors and to placate consumers. This was underscored recently as two adware competitors are going to court over one targeting the other company's software.

I close with a quote from a book I read recently, Stephen Pressfield's, The Virtues of War.

The verse I quote is referring to the sound made by a group of Sarissa, a lethal Greek pike, while the wind passes over them post-battle.

"The sarissa's song is a sad song
He pipes it soft and low.
I would ply a gentler trade, says he,
But war is all I know.

The spyware/adware space has become a full blown digital war.
Unfortunately it gets harder and harder for citizens to figure out who the enemy really is.

This article is copyright 2005 by XBlock.com.
It may not be reprinted or copied without the express written consent of the author.

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