180 Solutions Says New Software Will Stop Illegal Downloads

Spyware analysts say they aren't sure the company is serious about cleaning up its affiliates.

Advertising software bête noir 180 Solutions Inc. said Wednesday that it will release a new version of its client software that will prevent unauthorized installations of the product.

180 Solutions will require its distributors to use the search assistant technology, which it calls Safe and Secure Search, or "S3."

But at least one spyware authority said the company still has to do a better job of informing Web surfers what theyre installing to prevent the kind of surreptitious downloads that have tarred the companys reputation.

S3 is integrated in new versions of 180s Zango Search Assistant and 180search Assistant clients.

In a statement, 180 Solutions, of Bellevue, Wash., said that new affiliates will be required to distribute the new generation of S3-enabled clients.

Existing affiliates will have until Dec. 31 to do so. Distributors who do not use the S3 client will not be paid for installations of the companys products.

The S3 technology is supposed to be able to spot distributors who are using networks of compromised computers, or "botnets" to distribute 180s software, or that use Windows security holes to install the software on vulnerable machines, the company said.

Spyware experts greeted the news with guarded optimism, but doubted whether the company is serious about cleaning up shifty affiliates.

"It seems like 180 has another of these releases every month or two," wrote Ben Edelman, a Harvard University Law School student and an expert on spyware, in an e-mail to eWEEK.

Edelman pointed to some of the companys efforts to stanch illegal installs in the last two years.

Those efforts included the release of 180Search Assistant and Zango, the purchase of CDT—a Montreal, Canada-based affiliate network notorious for shady installation practices—and lawsuits against rogue distributors.

"All in all, its a lot of talk and not nearly enough action," Edelman wrote.

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Stopping nonconsensual installs isnt a difficult technological problem to solve if the company was serious about it, and the crackdown on unethical CDT distributors is hard to verify, Edelman says.

In its statement, 180 cited its legal victory over Internext Media Corp. in July and a lawsuit filed in August against seven other affiliates for fraudulent practices as evidence that it is getting serious about unethical installation and distribution practices.

Other adware vendors, such as WhenU, have done a better job of cleaning up their products and distribution networks—and done it faster, according to Sunbelt Software president Alex Eckelberry.

Eckelberry gave 180 credit for "moving in the direction of getting cleaned up," but said that 180 still has to improve the way it solicits user consent to installations to really prevent its software from ending up on users computers without their say-so.

Writing on his blog, Eckelberry cited examples of messages that appear during installation of 180searchAssistant that he said offers a poor description of what the software does, and uses stern language to scare users into installing the product.

"As weve seen with Katrina, PR means nothing without action…Get the good works done first, then publicize," he wrote.

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