The presidential election has nothing on the debates in the anti-spyware industry. An announcement last week from adware vendor WhenU and anti-spyware company Aluria Software has raised red flags in the anti-spyware community.
As part of its new “Spyware SAFE Certification Program,” Aluria gave passing marks to WhenU, which historically has been characterized as spyware by many in the industry. In a separate development, Aluria also now runs WhenUs UControl, a free desktop scanning program launched Monday that removes unwanted spyware programs.
“Aluria has gone almost immediately from targeting WhenU as spyware to the next day having a partnership,” said Mike Healan, editor of SpywareInfo.com. Healan said he has de-listed Aluria, no longer recommending or linking to the company from his site.
Aluria said it is giving consumers a legitimate and safe option by differentiating itself and holding adware and spyware companies accountable to some two dozen privacy and technology standards, including not tracking customer behavior, making clear that software is being installed and including directions for simple removal.
“Were sticking our necks out there,” said Rick Carlson, president of Aluria Software. He said desktop advertising is a legitimate business if it is held to standards, and Aluria has taken an approach not yet seen in the industry.
“Were protecting consumers in a different way; its absolutely contrary to what others [anti-spyware firms] are doing,” he said.
Eric Howes, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who runs a privacy and security Web site, has been a harsh critic of the arrangement. He said Aluria is in a completely untenable position.
“If youre in the anti-spyware business, you shouldnt be exploiting that model yourself,” he said. “You shouldnt be in a position to remove potential competitors from consumers desktops. Im perfectly happy with them working with companies to improve their practices, but setting standards has nothing to do with partnering with WhenU.”
Aluria Says No Money
Rich Mogull, a research director at analyst firm Gartner, expressed skepticism about the agreement as well, noting that the real concern would be whether money exchanged hands as part of the deal.
“Absolutely not,” Alurias Carlson said when asked if there was a financial agreement in place. “That would tear apart the core of our business.”
Carlson added that WhenU has removed all barriers to being considered a legitimate adware company, and by using Aluria to power its spyware-scanning program, continues on the path to “remove the spyware moniker.”
WhenU President and co-founder Avi Naider said the industry is falling on previous prejudices and lumping legitimate adware in with malicious spyware, failing to see the changes WhenU has made.
Naider said the company doesnt track individual behavior, illegitimately install its software or affect how other applications run. He also said the UControl software is a separate agreement and is run by Aluria.
“We dont have anything to do with the decisions on what gets removed from the desktop,” Naider said. “Thats done by the Aluria research team. We adhere to their standards, but they make decisions on the software.”
And Alurias Carlson said the company would not remove WhenU competitors, as long as they meet the companys criteria.
That didnt convince University of Illinois Howes that its a legitimate agreement. “You cant set standards for the industry when youre in league with the very people youre supposed to be judging,” he said. “This is Conflict of Interest 101.”