Beware! Be Aware!
The name game is now being played again! Time for a reincarnation, yet again… These ‘adware’ and ‘affiliate’ companies must think they are Dr. Who or something.
NOTE: I have listed some Google search results in some links below, but please be careful which links within the Google results you click on due to the types of words being used in the search. The Google search results are added for the historical listings that will help you connect the dots, but be careful. If you use McAfee SiteAdvisor (IE or Firefox) or FireTrust SiteHound (IE only) browser plugins, you might have a better handle on which results are safe links to click on and which are questionable or worse.
180Solutions (also known as MetricsDirect) has been trying for years to shed — at least to an unknowing populous — the link to their behaviors (past and present) and in so doing they hope to distance themselves from their past bad reputation and how they made their money. They have further tried to legitimize their Zango products through unwitting partnerships around the web with legitimate businesses and charities as affiliates. They claim that they weed out bad affiliates, but do their behaviors bear that out?
You remember 180Solutions (Spyware Warrior’s article 180solutions in 365 Days), right? Also see Ben Edelman’s site here (The effects of 180Solutions on Affiliate commissions and merchants) and here (Affiliate Hall of Shame) for even more details. Also see our piece on Zango and other companies’ affiliate dealings through ‘good cause’ sites here. More information can be found from May 26, 2006 posting on paperghost’s VitalSecurity.org site here (Botnet pushes Zango software) where paperghost discusses this and also brings up 180Solutions/Zango’s software being installed by YapBrowser as well here and Suzi Turner’s Spyware Confidential posting at ZDNet blogs entitled What does 180solutions have in common with racism, comedy and the long tail?.
And of course there were of course the infamous class action lawsuits (against 180Solutions) and here (where they have sued and then dropped suits against the likes of ZoneLabs and others). Here’s just one of the articles about one of the class action lawsuits against 180Solutions:
180Solutions, the adware company with a terrible reputation, keeps claiming that its cleaning up its act, though many have doubts. One move they’ve made is to start suing some “rogue” distributors (though, they’ve rewarded others). Well, it seems that 180Solutions’ lawyers may be busy in the other direction now, as some “users” (tough to call them that) are filing a class action lawsuit on behalf of everyone who ever got stuck with one of 180Solutions products without knowing about it. There are a bunch of charges, including computer fraud and violating wiretap laws.
And one has to wonder about Spectrum Equity Investors who brought 180Solutions back from the brink of bankruptcy in 2002 after the n-Case fiasco (see also SunBelt Blog research on n-Case) as noted in this 2004 Seattle PI article:
180solutions Chief Executive Keith Smith, a 32-year-old college dropout from Grants Pass, Ore., said the investment feels a bit odd because it was not very long ago that venture capitalists refused to take his calls. “With no pedigree, no Harvard MBA, they weren’t real interested,” said Smith, who started the company under the ePipo name with his brother and two high school friends.
But that all started to change when Smith — who sold his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to keep the business alive a few years ago — selected some investors to look at the company’s financials. What they saw was a business with eight consecutive quarters of profits, sales that had increased by more than 700 percent, 6,000 advertising customers and about 30 million software installations.
Spectrum Equity was so impressed that the firm invested $40 million for about 25 percent of the company.
Regarding n-Case the SeattlePI article states:
But although investors are clearly bullish, not everyone is impressed with the business tactics employed by 180solutions. Consumer advocates claim that the software — known as n-Case — is parasitic adware that is often downloaded without a computer user’s knowledge. They also claim that n-Case, which is being phased out and replaced by newer software called Zango, tracks what Internet sites people visit and then delivers pop-up advertisements based on those visitations.
Critics argue that the n-Case software is especially difficult to remove and — while not illegal — violates privacy.
Online chat boards have been established to advise people how to remove n-Case, with one recent poster calling it “a disaster waiting to happen to your computer.” A recent report released by The Center for Democracy & Technology said 180solutions tricks users into installing the software by piggybacking on free software downloads and free online content.
Oh, and we haven’t even covered the speckled past of the ‘adware’ HotBar… but if you or someone you know has been a computer technician for more than a few months, you likely know alot about HotBar as well. HotBar is another leopard that has tried to ‘change their spots.’ But let’s focus on 180Solutions since HotBar is simply being merged into 180Solutions to become a new company called Zango.
Talk about your viral marketing….
And according to ZDNet/CNET article (Adware makers 180solutions, Hotbar merge):
Bellevue, Wash.-based 180solutions makes software, including its now-namesake Zango Search Assistant, that delivers pop-up ads as people perform Web searches. Hotbar, based in New York, offers toolbars with ad displays for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Outlook and Outlook Express.
“The merger creates increased available inventory and an even larger audience of potential customers whom advertisers can target utilizing Zango’s time-shifted ad-delivery model,” 180solutions and Hotbar said in a joint statement.
Further, the article says:
In exchange for displaying ads, Zango and Hotbar give access to content such as videos, games and tools.
So we have a history of bad affiliate practices, games bearing more than a cute game, software and utilities that provide more than the software or utility itself, videos that provide more than the video itself … and now to further confuse the public, they are again trying to remake themselves, yet again. But that’s all OK because they are giving folks what they want … free stuff! Right, I buy that. NOT.
180Solution’s notorious lack of control with their affiliates has led to things like the WashingtonPost’s article, Adware Firm Accuses 7 Distributors of Using ‘Botnets’ – Lawsuit Claims Defendants Spread Pop-Ups Via Hacked PCs, Sunbelt Blog’s posting The spyware/kiddie porn/spam zombie connection, and so many more examples at Spyware Warrior is horrified to present…180solutions in 365 Days – A year in the life of an adware company….
With up and coming ad sponsored video delivery sites like UTube, Instant Media, RapidShare, etc. etc. etc. How soon before the new Zango will be part of this, if they are not already? Who are the partners these video delivery mechanisms are involved with? I have read the EULAs, TOS, and Privacy policies at several of them (which are pretty intense) and they don’t outline who those partners are. They only say you can opt out by emailing a specific email address so you do not receive marketing emails or have your email address provided to their ‘partners.’ But who are the partners? And what ways are they partnered? They could be totally legitimate partners or not. We have no way of knowing.
Back to 180Solutions…
FaceTime’s The Greynets Blog: Understanding and Education About Internet Threats and Software in a World of Grey is quite telling regarding video content, adult video content in particular. From Manoj Venugopal’s posting:
Since there is large demand for adult entertainment online it comes as no surprise, companies are distributing their products through pornographic video clips. Likewise it is not surprising people are trying to earn money by becoming an affiliate for adware companies like IST. (In this case, by uploading their movies in sites like rapidshare.) The user, JimPolk, may be one among them who gets their pocket money just by distributing adware through the video clips.
The lesson here is that free often carries a steeper price tag than what you might think- the trade-offs are often hidden. Think before you click and ask yourself is downloading several applications that will throw pop-up ads, make trade-offs in your privacy, and slowing down your computer worth the video you are about to download? Also consider you will have to endure this software long after the video is gone.
I think we will need to keep a diligent eye on the transformation of 180Solutions, HotBar and Zango and what part 180Solutions’ other name MetricsDirect will play in all this, particularly where the new broadband TV/Video delivery systems that are popping up all over the Internet are concerned. There is opportunity for big money in these delivery mechanisms particularly since they often are free software to enable the delivery. Certainly a ripe market for affiliate abuses. And unfortunately, you know the old saying, “Follow the money trail.”
And delivery through media files is nothing new, back in early 2005, Ben Edelman reported “Media Files that Spread Spyware.”
In the past we have seen videos themselves that wouldn’t play without installation of certain adware/spyware through misleading EULAs or no EULAs at all. I for one don’t think this will get better with age.
And certainly this new merger between 180Solutions and Hotbar to form a ‘new’ company called Zango doesn’t bode well for users. Yes, this will bear watching … very carefully.