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Trouble In Spywareville

Anti-spyware researchers and a controversial Web advertising supplier are escalating a verbal feud that goes to the heart of what constitutes ethical online advertising.

180solutions provides adware software that its affiliate Web sites are supposed to distribute to their site visitors who consent to have it on their computers. Spyware researchers last week disclosed that 180's installation software could easily be changed to let affiliate sites install it without user consent and cited one affiliate site doing that. "180solutions got installed, even though 180 last year told the world that these nonconsensual installations were impossible," says noted spyware researcher Ben Edelman. Last year, 180 said it had made it "much harder to subvert end-user consent."

180solutions, which didn't respond to a request for comment, fired back at researchers in a statement, saying that because researchers didn't name the affiliated site, it was like a security researcher disclosing a bug before a patch was in place. Edelman counters that the only one hurt is 180solutions, because it's not as if a worm could be written to exploit this flaw.

And Edelman contends 180 hasn't done enough to squash spyware problems. "180's business model is fundamentally broken," he says. "180 cannot implement technology or enforcement to ensure the proper installation of its software."

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