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Anti-Spyware Company Accused Of Deception

Harvard professor and security researcher Ben Edelman questions C-NetMedia's business and marketing practices as well as the effectiveness of its security software.
Ben Edelman's Valentine's Day missive to C-NetMedia is definitely not a love letter. In a detailed report posted on Thursday, the spyware researcher, attorney, and assistant professor at Harvard University accused the Alabama-based anti-spyware company of deceptive business and marketing practices, and of selling ineffective security software.

C-NetMedia could easily be confused with CNET Networks; in fact, the two companies have nothing to do with each other.

As Edelman points out, C-NetMedia profits from confusion. It had paid for a sponsored link that appears on Google searches for "spybot." SpyBot Search & Destroy happens to be a popular anti-spyware tool. C-NetMedia's sponsored link leads to SpywareBot.com/SpyBot, a Web link that could easily be mistaken for the official SpyBot Search & Destroy site. C-NetMedia's ad text -- "Official Site - Search & Destroy Spyware. Download Spyware Bot Now!" -- magnifies the confusion.

"These landing pages are hosted on the deceptively-named domains named spybot-sd-info.com and www-spybotcom.com -- each further (but falsely) suggesting an affiliation with the genuine "spybot" product," Edelman says in his report.

Edelman anticipates the typical defense against such charges, which is to blame affiliates for unethical practices. FTC litigation, he says, confirms that marketers can be held liable for the misdeeds of their affiliates. And he adds that C-NetMedia rather than any affiliate chose product names that are confusingly similar to those of security software market leaders.

"Some C-Net sites are also deceptive in that their titles and graphic design falsely suggest they are an official part of Windows," Edelman says. Pointing out the design similarities between antispyware.com and the Microsoft Windows Defender site, he says, "These many visual similarities make it especially likely that a user at antispyware.com will mistakenly believe the site is an official Microsoft offering." Then there's the issue of C-NetMedia's "exceptionally many product names and domain names," which Edelman sees as a strategy to diminish the impact of poor reviews and as a way to insulate the company from customer contact. Indeed, the company might benefit from such a strategy if its anti-spyware software is as ineffective as Edelman suggests.

Edelman also criticizes several prominent companies for failing to hold C-NetMedia accountable for its practices. "Google and other search engines could block the widespread deceptive ads from C-NetMedia and its marketing partners," he says. "C-Net and its partners have continued these practices for more than a year. Google claims to be tough on malware, and Google does exclude some harmful organic search results. But Google has been ineffective in removing the false and deceptive ads shown above, among many others, despite ample complaints from users and security researchers."

Edelman also urges Microsoft to withdraw C-NetMedia's Certified for Windows Vista certification because of certification rules violations and for copying the layout of Microsoft's site. And he believes ClickBank should drop C-NetMedia from its affiliate network for misleading advertising.

C-NetMedia provides a mailing address and e-mail support address, but no phone number. A request for comment sent to the e-mail address was not answered. No building that resembles the company's illustration of its headquarters is visible on the Google Maps satellite photo of the posted address.

Erik M. Pelton, the attorney of record for C-NetMedia's trademark filings, did not respond to a request for comment left with his assistant.