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'Net Insider


Advertising arrogance or stupidity


By Scott Bradner, Network World, 07/04/05

Scott Bradner


I'm told that adware and spyware are the banes of your existence if you happen to use a Windows computer anywhere near the Internet. While that is not yet the case for Mac or Linux users, I can feel your pain, anger and disgust - or at least imagine it.


What I cannot imagine is how any anyone ostensibly working for a brand-name company could think that using these mechanisms to pitch the company would do anything but engender disgust that would be transferred to the brand.


The Associated Press has caught quite a few major names being advertised by adware or spyware. The list includes JCPenney, Capital One, Vonage, Monster, Expedia, Orbitz, Sprint, Sony, Circuit City, banks pushing Visa cards, Mercedes-Benz, Netflix and Verizon. Some of these companies have apparently heard and understood the feedback they got from deciding to travel this particular low road but others, including Sprint, apparently don't care if their image is damaged further by how they decide to advertise. I guess Sprint figures that the disgust level with phone companies is so high already that there is no additional downside, and Vonage must be trying to go that last mile in imitating what is bad about phone companies.


I can understand people advertising body part enlargers, prescription male stamina pills without the need for a prescription and "genuine" Rolex watches using adware and spyware, because they can't get any lower in anyone's opinion. But I do not understand what a company such as Capital One expects to gain by using a mechanism as reviled as adware or spyware other than fewer customers. (Maybe someone with a pile of Bank of America stock made the decision to do this at Capital One.)


Adware and spyware, almost always installed on the user's computer without the user's understanding and generally without the user's knowledge, has attracted the attention of lawmakers everywhere (also see this article). For example, The U.S. House of Representatives has OK'd two bills that would put people distributing spyware in jail. (I don't actually expect the U.S. Senate to go along with the House because it would be too pro-consumer for that legislative body.)


New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who too often has had to fill in for sleeping federal regulators, has discovered spyware and does not like what he sees. In April, Spitzer sued Web marketer Intermix Media for false advertising and deceptive business practices because it installed spyware on the computers of unsuspecting Internet users


Intermix recently agreed to stop and to pay a fine of $7.5 million.


Intermix has even joined a group trying to define best practices for Internet advertisers and hired a privacy officer.


Spitzer does not want to stop with the software distributors; he wants to take the companies that pay for the adware and spyware to court. I expect that this is about the only thing that might get through to those who supposedly are in charge of some of these companies. Many of these leaders seem immune to shame and other's revulsion, but we already knew this considering the reaction to public disclosure of how much some of these "leaders" are taking home.


Disclaimer: If any of those leaders are from Harvard I hope they learned their gluttony and arrogance on the job. In any case, I haven't seen a university opinion about jailing spyware producers, so the above opinion must be mine.


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