Oh The Business Models That Sneaky Installs Allow

from the do-they-not-get-it? dept

With all the stories about various adware companies trying to go legit there’s one element that always seems to be ignored: almost all of these “legit” business models are built off of the data they got from surreptitious installs. Claria has been the worst offender here. A few months back, they announced their plan to do targeted advertising arbitrage (part of the reason Microsoft was so interested in them), but no one wanted to point out that the data they would use to do this came from the sneaky installs. Now, they’re announcing another new, more “legit” business model by offering customized search offerings. Again, the only way they can do this is because of all the data they have on people who never wanted their application in the first place. The products may seem more legit, but the entire reason they work is because of their sneaky practices over the years.

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Comments on “Oh The Business Models That Sneaky Installs Allow”

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Avi Naider, President, WhenU (user link) says:

No data collection

As you point out Mike, almost all of these “legit” business models are built off data gathered from surreptitious installs… almost, but not all. WhenU has no data on any individual users – not from past installs nor from current. Thats because we dont track clickstream, and don’t collect any type of user profile, not even anonymously. We don’t now and we never have. WhenU doesn’t even use tracking cookies. It is possible to help advertisers get consumers’ attention without invading their privacy or selling their behavioral data. All software-based advertisers should provide extremely clear notification about what their software will and will not do before and after download. The ones that collect clickstream data and use tracking cookies and sell that data to others should say so right up front. If they want to sell data they’ve previously collected from users who received no such notification, they should go back and get permission from those consumers to profit from data that was harvested without their informed consent. So agree with your overall point – but ask again that you don’t generalize to all “adware”, because at least one of us doesn’t fit the description…

Mike (profile) says:

Re: No data collection

Point taken, though there are some who appear to contest at least some of your claims. At the same time, as transparent as WhenU claims to be, studies have shown that 87% of WhenU users had no clue it was on their machines. So, while I hope it’s true that you guys are very straightforward with your users right now, there is at least a history of some questionable behavior on the part of your company.

It would be great if you’ve cleaned up whatever problems there were, but it still seems like a portion of your business model was based on surreptitious installs. So, while you might not collect data, there clearly have been surreptitious installs, which are a big part of the problem. If only 13% of your users know they’re using your product, it raises some questions about how viable the business model is if you really are transparent about things.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: No data collection

Aha. Here’s some more recent data, which does show that WhenU has improved their transparency — which is a good thing. However, it also shows that a huge percentage of your users have no clue how your software got on their machines. There is also a report of a security exploit from last year that dumped your software on plenty of machines.

Obviously, it’s likely that this was done by rogue affiliates — but that’s a result of the business model you’ve set up involving affiliates, which encourages this kind of activity.

So, it still remains to be seen what kind of business model is left over if the installs really are completely transparent.

Avi Naider (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: No data collection

Mike, the data you cite predates our most vigorous efforts to improve pre and post-install notification and get rid of distribution partners who would not or could not comply with our strict rules – and it comes from an anti-spyware vendor. We havent had an affiliate program for awhile – every current distribution partner and channel is manually reviewed very carefully.

There continues to be a lot of churn of our installed base, which is due mostly to anti-spyware products that routinely wipe WhenU products off machines, often *before* a single ad is shown. The implementation of best practices is GOOD for our business model: a more qualified, truly opted-in audience is more attractive to advertisers, and as our installed base became smaller and more qualified, the online advertising pie has grown MUCH larger. The biggest hurdle we face is overcoming the unwillingness of many (but not all) anti-spyware vendors to recognize that WhenU products and practices have truly evolved.

Anti-spyware vendors have a vested interest in continuing to flag and flog as many “threats” as possible, because it helps them sell more
product. The fact is that WhenU products are extremely well branded, every ad announces itself from WhenU and has a toll free 800# prominently on its face. We are easy to uninstall using Windows Add/Remove (of course you may have to uninstall the free software we support too) – so consumers really do not need to pay for special tools or programs to remove WhenU software.

An ASW vendors’ survey of their own customers is not the best gauge of user acceptance of WhenU products, particularly when these users haven’t even seen WhenU ads! We have encouraged this particular vendor to redo that survey so that it is more scientific and representative of our current business practices. I can tell you that we’ve seen significant growth this year from some distribution partners… so although (according to the recent Pew study) fewer users report downloading ad-supported software, many are more than willing to download software supported by WhenU products, which provide exceptionally clear notification – especially since ours is the only monetizing component in their bundle.

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