For years, privacy advocates and consumers’ rights organizations have raised several concerns with the adware industry. Consumers are often unaware that they’ve downloaded adware onto their systems, since it’s packaged among other programs. Also, it’s often difficult to remove adware. And there’s the often murky or non-existent disclosure of what information is tracked and to whom it is sent.
“I remain skeptical of this industry,” says Chris Hoofnagle, director and senior counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Most of the changes they have made focus on PR rather than substantive privacy reform.”
Bill Day, WhenU.com’s CEO, says he was well aware of consumer and privacy concerns when he joined the company in October 2004. Like most adware companies, it attaches its adware to free downloadable games and other consumer-focused software. Since then, he says he’s worked hard to address these issues and to change the way his company operates.
“Installation is now very clear,” Day says. “Branding that the ads are from us is now very clear. It’s very easy to uninstall now.” (Historically, one of the major consumer complaints against adware companies is that they have not included “uninstall” files with the program, and hidden the program on a user’s hard drive, making it very difficult to find and erase the program.)
Each application now has an 800 number on it, which consumers can call if they have complaints about the ad or want to get rid of the software.
“We’re only getting 10-20 calls per day on that line,” Day says.
Trevor Hughes, executive director of The Network Advertising Initiative, a trade association for traditional, banner-based Internet advertisers, lauds the adware industry’s recent initiatives, but also says much more is needed before the industry sheds its negative image.
“These companies need to distinguish themselves more clearly from spyware firms,” Hughes says. “The entire industry needs to put down its competitive nature and define some best practices and standards…They need to put some teeth into those standards and then take them out to the world.”
Day agrees that strict best practices are needed across the industry if adware companies are to continue their recent momentum. Even with the continued pressure from privacy advocates and consumer groups, though, he’s bullish about WhenU and the industry’s prospects. “The company has gone through a lot of scrutiny recently, and we’ve survived,” he says.