The nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology wants blue-chip advertisers join the fight against shady practices by adware and spyware vendors.
The public policy group plans to start contacting about two dozen mainstream advertisers to discuss their direct funding of an industry that thrives on deception and borderline illegal activity.
The campaign is the brainchild of CDT associate director Ari Schwartz, who is also leading an effort to develop industry guidelines around spyware definitions.
"The big money is floating between the advertisers and the adware vendors. Thats why we think the advertisers are a key part of the puzzle," Schwartz said in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News.
Schwartz said the CDT campaign would be used to highlight the absence of accountability in the controversial adware sector.
Schwartz described malicious spyware applications as "close cousins" of adware programs marketed by legitimate adware vendors and said mainstream advertisers are unaware of the shenanigans.
"We want to see the advertisers take accountability for the places they spend their ad dollars. We want them [the advertisers] to call on the adware companies to clean up their acts. Many of these companies dont know about this complicated web of affiliate networks and complicated download commission programs," Schwartz added.
According to published research by anti-spyware critic Ben Edelman, advertisers include Travelocity, Time Life Walt Disney Classics, Virgin Mobile, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile, Verizon, Chase, Ameriquest, multiple DirecTV resellers, Pitney Bowes, Merck, multiple Viagra sellers, and multiple online gambling sites.
Schwartz also threw his support behind a call for the adware vendors to prove they are willing to clean up installation practices that are being blamed on rogue distributors.
"The idea is for them to go back to their users and ask them to opt in again [to download the adware program]. Our message to them is: If you are willing to come totally clean, then ask your users to opt-in again."
"What we are asking for is reasonable," Schwartz said.
Schwartz recently testified on spyware before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where he warned that the entire adware installation and ad-placement process was "sustained through a nearly impenetrable web of affiliate relationships" that is used to "deflect accountability and frustrate law enforcement."
He warned that some adware programs have been responsible for browser hijacking and other manipulation of PC settings; covert installation through security vulnerabilities; hidden uninstalls; automatic reinstallation; degrading system speed and performance; and the opening of security backdoors that could be used for malicious attacks.