TRUSTe to legitimize adware and trackware downloads

Yesterday, TRUSTe together with well-known sponsors including Yahoo!, AOL, CNET Networks, Computer Associates, and Verizon announced a new program to certify downloadable software. The Trusted Download Program is aimed on creating a whitelist of software products that have passed certification. These applications can then be legally distributed through popular web sites, online services and other willing resources. The TRUSTe’s new program doesn’t seem to be very original and therefore would be of no interest, if it wouldn’t be focused primarily on adware:

The Trusted Download Program promotes ethical behavior by publishing a “whitelist” of certified applications. The whitelist will be used by companies beginning with program sponsors such as Yahoo!, AOL, Computer Associates, CNET Networks and Verizon as a tool to make business decisions about advertising, partnering or distributing software products. This provides attractive market incentives to adware and other software providers to meet the requirements and earn certification.

As it turns out, TRUSTe wants to legitimize adware and even trackware programs and made them legally downloadable. Fortunately, it will not certify malicious applications and actual spyware parasites, as the TRUSTe program is based on quite strict requirements that software should apply to. The certification criteria are made with the assistance of Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and really meet with approval:

To be placed on the whitelist, adware and trackware must prominently disclose the types of advertising that will be displayed, personal information that will be tracked, and user settings that may be altered, and must obtain user opt-in consent for the download. An easy uninstall with clear instructions must be provided, and advertisements must be labeled with the name of the adware program. Program participants must maintain separate advertising inventory for users of certified applications. To move legacy users to certified advertising inventory, they must obtain new opt-in consent.

However, what is very bad about this program is that it actually legitimizes adware, trackware and other unsolicited applications that currently are often being illegally distributed and installed. Furthermore, some products with additional spyware functionality can even today easily pass the certification and therefore may be absolutely legally distributed through popular download networks in the near future. So, it sounds like TRUSTe is not going to stop parasites and illegal downloads, but adorn them and even encourage users into using them. This may make the number of advertising-supported programs to increase quickly causing more potential problems to their users, or should we say deceived victims. Although TRUSTe strives to prevent this, 180Solutions, the infamous adware company, thinks differently. Here are few excerpts from a post on its blog:

We are optimistic with today’s announcement of the TRUSTe “Trusted Download Certification Program,” which should finally create meaningful industry standards?€¦

?€¦This is huge news for our industry, as this certification program finally levels the playing field by creating a third-party legitimizing mechanism with universally-accepted standards?€¦

?€¦The question will be asked, “Does this legitimize adware?

The answer is categorically yes. Millions upon millions of consumers around the world have knowingly been saying that for many years. Zealots will continue to disparage targeted advertisements while real-world users and real-world advertisers know they are more effective and helpful than page-embedded advertising.

The Trusted Download Program will probably bring some advantages for both advertising-supported software vendors and end users. However, is concerned about its focus on adware and remains sceptical towards it. So do Microsoft and Google that have decided not to support the TRUSTe program at present.

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