Direct Revenue to Dump Affiliate Networks

The company and other advertising software vendors have been under pressure from anti-spyware companies and advocates.

Advertising software company Direct Revenue is severing its relationship with third party Web sites known as "affiliates," according to a company statement.

Direct Revenue LLC said it will stop using affiliate networks as of Sept. 22 and rely exclusively on bundling arrangements with "free advertising-supported software" to promote its software in the future.

The company did not provide a reason for the decision.

However, a copy of an e-mail message sent to affiliate Web site operators from Direct Revenue said that the company lost faith in its ability to track the disclosure and consent practices used to install Direct Revenue software from affiliate Web sites.

Direct Revenue, of New York, has claimed in the past to have over 20 million installations of its three ad programs: Aurura, Ceres and SolidPeer, mostly through bundling arrangements with P2P (peer to peer) software vendors and arrangements and from one of thousands of affiliate Web sites used by the companys distribution partners who are paid per installation, said Ari Schwartz of the CDT (Center for Democracy and Technology) in Washington, D.C.

However, Direct Revenue and other advertising software vendors have been under pressure from anti-spyware companies, consumer advocates such as Harvard Law Schools Ben Edelman, and from lawmakers, who have already drafted federal anti-spyware legislation that outlaws certain installation practices.

In a recent analysis of the role of Web sites affiliates in spreading spyware, Edelman noted that some Web site affiliates sometimes install Direct Revenue software invisibly and without the users consent and that pop-up advertisements delivered through Direct Revenues clients can create "forced clicks" that call up affiliate links without the users consent—basically corralling the user to a Web site from which the affiliate will profit.

Edelman, CDT and others have also recorded examples of affiliate Web sites installing bundles of programs on users machines without their consent using vulnerabilities in Web browsers.

Programs created by Direct Revenue and competitors, such as 180 Solutions Inc., are commonly included, along with spyware and pop-up advertising software in the illegally installed bundles, Schwartz said.

In recent months, Direct Revenue pledged to improve oversight of its network of Web affiliates.

In a Sept. 22 e-mail to those affiliates with the subject "distribution practices," however, Direct Revenue said that "the use of affiliate networks by our partners has made confirmation of accurate and clear disclosure and consent difficult to track."

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more from columnist Larry Seltzer about the reclassification of spyware and adware.

In an effort to control its distribution channel, Direct Revenue will stop working with partners who use affiliates and focus on direct bundling relationships with software providers and distribution partners with which it has a "direct relationship."

The company is also consolidating its many adware brands under a single title: The Best Offers Network, Direct Revenue said.

In lieu of software bundles downloaded from affiliate sites, Direct Revenue offered its distribution partners an "improved method of distribution" that will display proper disclosure statements to the user prior to installing the Direct Revenue ad client.

The disclosure will be served directly from Direct Revenue servers, rather than from the affiliates servers, the e-mail said.

Ending the use of affiliates will cut off the source of some of the most egregious installation and disclosure practices.

However, Direct Revenue and other adware companies also need to clean up their bundling arrangements with companies that make software, like Peer to Peer clients, that Direct Revenue is bundled with, Schwartz said.

"Do consumers understand that the adware is working, even when theyre not using the advertising supported software it was installed with?" he said.

"That seems to be a difficult concept for the average Internet user to understand," he said.

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