The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) pulled the covers off adware's "dirty little secret" this week with the release of its latest report.
In the report, "Follow the Money," CDT detailed how reputable companies are funding the seedy underbelly of online advertising, sometimes unwittingly. Some of the firms named included Netflix, eHarmony, uBid and Altrec. CDT said that the relationships between legitimate companies and the purveyors of adware often begin unbeknownst to upstanding companies due to the byzantine nature of online advertising channels.
According to the study, the large companies outsource their campaigns to ad agencies, who in turn work with other advertising networks or with adware companies directly. The advertising networks may additionally be placing ads through nuisance and dangerous adware programs. The net result is that big dollars are trickling into adware company coffers, fueling an industry that poses security risks for consumers and businesses.
Even companies with policies banning the use of adware are guilty, the report said. When CDT contacted Netflix about company ads placed through one of the top producers of adware programs, the report said, "Netflix expressed concern that its ads (were) appearing via 180solutions software since the Netflix policy explicitly prohibits the display of ads through any adware or spyware program."
But company representatives assured CDT that the example the organization found was isolated. CDT noted in the report, however, that hours after discussing the issue with Netflix, it found three different examples of Netflix ads placed through adware.
CDT said that to stop the spread of nuisance adware, companies such as Netflix will need to provide better auditing and policing of their advertising networks to ensure that they only use trustworthy affiliates. The group said that it will continue to monitor the situation and advise companies about best practices. It pointed to the efforts of organizations such as Interactive Travel Services Association(ITSA), the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), Major League Baseball, Dell and Verizon as good examples to follow in the fight against the use of harmful adware.
"We are pointing advertisers to policies and criteria that already exist as a step towards creating and enforcing their own policies," CDT said in the report. "CDT is committed to working with advertisers to stem the tide of this nefarious form of software.