Monday, July 11, 2005

Alice in Spyware Land

The battle over adware just gets curiouser and curiouser.

Adware makers say they're Internet visionaries. Claria Corp., for instance, boasts that it can boost "conversion" rates, in which a click is converted to a sale, by as much as thirty-fold. What revenue-hungry publisher wouldn't salivate at the thought? Yahoo alone lists partnerships with Claria and more than 30 other "ad networks." (Click here to see the list.)

But if Claria has become more respectable – its latest move is a divorce from Kazaa, its longtime download partner – it also has a past to live down. That's why so many Web watchers are shocked at rumors that Claria may be a Microsoft acquisition target.

In a recent posting on his Web site, Ben Edelman, the whiz-kid Harvard spyware expert, explores recent developments, including the decision by Microsoft and other distributors of anti-spyware tools to go easy on Claria's adware.

Edelman has long documented adware makers' threats against anti-spyware companies (click here to see his compilation). He doesn't necessarily believe Bill Gates' company is giving Claria special treatment. Instead, he shows how its recent decision to advise computer to "ignore" some adware fits a pattern of bowing to adware makers' arguments. (Here's Microsoft's own explanation of Claria's treatment.)

To Edelman, that pattern demonstrates the folly of legitimizing adware, even if Microsoft feels compelled to compete as Google and others experiment with their own adware-like innovations. As always, Edelman brings the argument down from the theoretical to the practical:

"These odd recommendations demonstrate the misguidedness of Microsoft's 'Ignore' classification. I know of no PC technician who advises users to ignore infection with any of these programs, which give users extra ads without anything offering substantial in return. If Bill Gates sought to clean up a friend's PC, I bet he'd want all these programs gone. Competing anti-spyware programs all recommend removal. Yet somehow Microsoft's AntiSpyware app sees no problem."

Do you really want any more software that can gum up your computer's performance – even if it can deliver brilliantly targeted ads?

Not me.

12 Comments:

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