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Advertising arrogance or stupidity


By Scott Bradner


I'm told that adware and spyware are of 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 J.C. penny, Capital One, Vonage, Monster, Expedia, Orbitz, Speint, Sony, Circuit City, banks pushing Visa cards, Mercedes-Benz, Netflix, and Verizon.  Some of these 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 gets (further) damaged by how they decide to advertise.  I guess Sprint figure that the disgust level is so high already with phone companies that there is no additional down side and I guess that Vonage is trying to go that last mile in imitating what is bad about phone companies.


I can understand people advertising understand body part enlargers, prescription male stamina pills without the need for a prescription, and "genuine" Rolex watches using adware and spyware to promote their products since they can't get any lower in anyone's opinion poll.  But I do not understand what a company like Capital One expects to gain by using a mechanism as reviled as adwware 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.  ( and For example, the U.S. House has OKed two bills that would put people distributing spyware in jail.  (I donŐt actually expect the U.S. Senate to go along because it would be too pro-consumer for that body.) 


New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (, who far too often has had to fill in for sleeping federal regulators, has discovered spyware and does not like what he sees.  Last 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 Media recently agreed to stop and to pay a fine of $7.5 million.  Intermix Media's CEO says that he has found religion and has even joined a group trying to define best practices for Internet advertisers and has, belatedly, 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 is about the only thing that might get through to those who are supposedly in charge of some of these companies.  Many of these leaders seem immune to shame & other's revulsion, but we already knew that 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've not seen a university opinion about jailing spyware producers so the above opinion must be mine.