When Bad Companies Go Good: A Step in the Right Direction or Just Another Scam?
Aluria Software Certifies WhenU as Spyware SAFE, Industry insiders Hit The Roof.
A heated debate has erupted surrounding the recent endorsement by Aluria Software, a well-known anti-spyware vendor, of WhenU, a well-known adware company. Aluria has certified WhenU as spyware-free as part of their Spyware SAFE Certification Program, a move which has drawn criticism from some industry insiders. Are they right or simply acting from their own self-interests?
We dug deeper for the facts.
(Full Disclosure: We recommend Alurias product, Spyware Eliminator, on this site.)
In this corner: WhenU SaveNow!
First, what is WhenU? The program is considered to be Adware, an application that displays advertisements on your desktop, usually through pop-up windows or through a bar that appears on your computer screen. This particular program watches your browser and will display advertisements when it sees targeted URLs. For years, this program has been one of many responsible for the unwanted popup ads that have tormented web surfers.
Adware it can be good or it can be bad
In its pure form, adware is not unethical or a threat to your privacy. In fact, desktop advertising is a legitimate business. Many forms of advertising-supported software exist, most notably the famous free email client, Eudora, or the equally famous web browser, Opera. If you choose to pay for the software, the ads go away. If not, the advertisers pay for it so you can go on using the software for free.
The problems started when companies began installing adware without the users knowledge. This was often done by distributing the software with file sharing programs, including BearShare, iMesh, KaZaa, and the Global DivX player. While these companies claimed to get consent from users before installing, often this disclosure was buried deep within lengthy EULAs that few people ever read. Even worse, some companies figured out how to install the software on peoples computers when they visited a particular website (drive-by installs) without ever informing them. Before long, there were lots of companies engaging in these practices, and our computers began to grind to a slow, pop-up-serving halt.
Anti-spyware products effectively end this problem by forcefully removing these parasites, usually kicking and screaming. WhenUs adware product, SaveNow, is one of these parasites that are targeted by practically every spyware removal product on the market.
Apparently, WhenU has changed their stripes. They realized that there was little future in spyware, so theyve claimed to reform their business model so that they could continue doing business. Until recently, nobody believed them. That is, until Aluria audited them as part of their Spyware SAFE certification program.
The Spyware SAFE program
Adware Report (this site) has been audited by Aluria and can attest to the thoroughness of the process. To become certified, the company must comply with 24 criteria, including the ones on the partial list below:
* Any software installation package must have a EULA with clear notification of all items installed, their functions, and intentions.
* Software will not be installed without explicit notification and consent of the user
* Software will not exploit vulnerabilities or change security settings
* Software will not install programs that can not be easily uninstalled through Add/Remove programs
* Software will not request personal information or make use of data for marketing purposes without clear and explicit user opt-in
* Software will not automatically opt-in users to deals, offers, newsletters, etc.
* Software will not serve advertising that is not clearly branded by the company
* Software will not install anything that removes or prevents other software from functioning
* Software will not monitors users behavior, such as keystrokes, emails, IMs, without explicit permission from the user
* Software will not alter search results
* Software will not redirect users to unrequested websites
Taken as a whole, the criteria to become certified is comprehensive and ensures that if you install a spyware SAFE application, no untoward activity will take place on your computer.
The New WhenU
We visited the WhenU site (http://www.whenU.com) and were surprised by the new look. The site reads Advertising You Want and the company has remade itself into the image of an upright corporate citizen. With a clearly labeled privacy center as well as a branded spyware scanner, it appears, on the surface at least, that WhenU is serious about their new image. But just to make sure, we loaded up the infamous SaveNow adware program to see if it truly complies with Alurias SAFE certification criteria.
The program did serve ads when we visited certain websites. The install program clearly told us we were installing adware, the ads were branded, no other software was loaded, and the program uninstalled cleanly from memory and our hard drive with add/remove programs.
By most definitions, WhenU is no longer spyware.
So Whats The Problem?
Desktop advertising is a legitimate opt-in business model, provided that consumers are offered it as a safe and informed option. If you dont want advertising on your desktop (and most people dont), then simply dont install the software. Adware only becomes a problem when companies install it without your knowledge and/or use sneaky tactics to prevent you from removing it.
So is Aluria in the wrong for certifying WhenU as spyware SAFE? Eric Howes, a spyware commentator from the University of Illinois, thinks so. He calls the current situation Conflict of interest 101 and claims that Aluria shouldnt be in league with the very people [spyware companies] are supposed to be judging.
We take a different position. If the Aluria program has made it possible for a bad company to turn good, then theyve done more than fight the problem. Theyve taken perhaps the first step towards solving it. Alurias program provides spyware companies with a motive as well as a viable way to come clean. Contrast this with the anti-spyware legislation making its way around Congress, which is all but useless against the east European and other foreign spyware companies.
While we havent performed a thorough audit of WhenU ourselves, it does appear that they are abiding by the certification criteria. If so, theyre no longer a spyware company and it makes no more sense for Aluria to remove their products then it would to remove Eudora. We cant help but feel that comments like Erics are based out of nothing more than past prejudices.
Criticism within the
pharmaceut oops! Spyware industry
What we didnt expect was the reluctance of other spyware companies to perform their own objective tests of the new WhenU. Instead, theyve resorted to launching attacks against Alurias bold and unprecedented move. Surprising perhaps, but only until one realizes that having bad guys is good for business. You cant sell the medicine unless theres a disease.
Our conclusion is that there is entirely way too much posturing going on around this. Aluria made a bold and surprising decision to certify WhenU in their Spyware SAFE program, and rivals have predictably used it to launch attacks in an attempt to discredit their certification program.
However, we feel that Alurias program has been the first real step towards a cure, not merely a treatment.
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