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1/8/2008
06:24 PM
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Zango Denies Involvement With Facebook Malware

The company refutes a security research report that a widget formerly called "Secret Crush" and since renamed "My Admirer," attempts to install Zango software.

Zango on Tuesday denied claims that it is involved with a harmful software program linked to the Facebook social network.

The company said that Fortinet's blog post about a malicious Facebook widget, formerly called "Secret Crush" and since renamed "My Admirer," incorrectly asserts that the widget attempt to install Zango software.

"Fortinet's 'Facebook Widget Installing Spyware' advisory is blatantly untrue," said Keith Smith, CEO of Zango, in a statement. "The falsification of a security report is absolutely irresponsible and reprehensible. Fortinet should do the right thing and correct its advisory."

Last week, security Fortinet's researchers claimed Secret Crush encourages Facebook users to provide the names of five friends and to install "the infamous 'Zango' adware/spyware."

Zango claims that the widget is neither a Zango application nor is it affiliated with Zango. What the Fortinet researchers observed, Zango says, is an ad that was legitimately placed on Facebook's system through one of its advertising partners.

Fortinet, meanwhile, stands by its report.

"After additional investigation, Fortinet confirms that our research related to the 'Secret Crush' (Facebook Widget) was accurate as of posting our advisory on January 2, 2008," said Fortinet in a statement. "The behavior shown in our screen shots simply showcases the observations the FortiGuard Global Security Research Team made on that date. We stand behind our original research."

It may be the case that Fortinet accurately reported what it saw. But the security company's assertion -- that use of the widget "ultimately prompts users to install the infamous 'Zango' adware/spyware" -- does suggest that every use of the widget results in the downloading of Zango software and that there's a relationship between the widget maker and Zango.

Zango, understandably, wishes to dispel this perception.

Zango rebuts that the ads presented by the widget rotate and that in cases when users do click through on Zango ads, widget users "are clearly notified as to the quid pro quo of advertising in exchange for content access." Those who respond to the Zango ad are, in other words, presented with adequate notice and consent, as least as construed by marketers and government regulators, if they choose to download Zango software.

In 2006, Zango settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it used unfair and deceptive methods get consumers to install its software by entering into a consent agreement to amend its business practices. But since then spyware researcher and Harvard assistant professor Ben Edelman has twice claimed that the company was failing to live up to its agreement with the government. In July 2007, Zango challenged Edelman's findings in a blog post and insisted that it was in compliance with its agreement. Edelman in turn issued a critique of Zango's response.

Barring further legal action by the FTC or some other party, the adequacy of the methods by which Zango notifies potential users about its software and obtains consent is likely to remain a matter of debate.

But there's a question that should be asked of Zango and other distributors of ad-supported software: When your company profits from a third party's illegal or unethical conduct -- as seems to be the case with the Facebook widget -- do you reject the benefits or silently, happily accept them?

The question could broadened and put to the whole tech industry: Whose business would you turn down? Repressive security agencies? Spammers? Scammers? Purveyors of child porn?

It is, in other words, not just Fortinet that should be urged, as Zango's Smith put it, to "do the right thing."

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