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7/28/2006
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Zango Blasted For Targeting MySpace As Adware Channel

Despite one critic saying he has a "smoking gun," Zango says it's not going after the social networking site.

A security researcher on Friday blasted adware maker Zango for targeting popular social networking site MySpace as a distribution channel, a charge the company had previously denied.

Chris Boyd, the director of malware research for security vendor FaceTime, provided TechWeb with a copy of an e-mail sent by a Zango representative to a potential affiliate of the Bellevue, Wash. firm. The e-mail outlined how to get MySpace users to download Zango's adware.

"Zango is fairly new with myspace sites and it took me some time to see what works and what doesn't," the e-mail read. "I think I figured it out now by looking at small sites who are making incredible money with Zango right now."

The e-mail was dated June 8, over a month after Zango spokesmen told TechWeb that the company -- formerly known as 180solutions -- was not deliberately using MySpace.

"Are we targeting MySpace?" said Zango spokesman Steve Stratz earlier this month. "No." At that time, Stratz claimed that Zango adware found on MySpace was there by mistake, placed on the site by an overzealous company developer.

"This is the smoking gun," said Boyd Friday. "It conclusively proves that they were indeed targeting MySpace."

The e-mail TechWeb reviewed was sent to someone who had signed up with the company's ZangoCash program, but who had never set up a site to distribute the adware. In the message, the representative -- identified as "Josh" -- offered advice on how to push Zango adware on MySpace.

"MOVING GIFS. This really gets people's attention and vistors [sic] love this sh**," one tip reads. Another: "Highlight the html code and embed one of the videos. This will make it automatically pop when the visitor reaches that page. This will lead to a lot more thinking to themselves: 'hmm, this looks like a cool video. I'll watch this. CLICK.'"

Before users can view Zango-provided video, they must install Zango's adware software.

The representative also recommended paying kickbacks to friends with popular MySpace profiles. "More profitably, go to a bunch of your friends who have popular profiles and pay them (it's up to you so much. One of my partners said 5$...maybe offer to split the money with them?) to put a zango video into their profile through your site. This will give you hundreds of extra installs a day," the e-mail reads. "This probably works even better than having them on your actual site."

MySpace bans advertising on members' profiles and prohibits "accepting payment or anything of value from a third person in exchange for your performing any commercial activity on or through MySpace."

"This e-mail highlights the inconsistencies and contradictions of various Zango representatives," said Boyd. "They can't be surprised then when they're dragged out and beaten up on complaints about how they distribute their adware."

In an e-mailed response to TechWeb questions, Zango spokesman Corey Magnus acknowledged that "as the e-mail clearly indicates, we had at one point looked into opportunities" on MySpace. But Magnus again said it was Zango's policy not to target the social site.

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