Verizon Communications, Yahoo, America Online, Computer Associates and other online brands signed on to a beta “Trusted Download” program to certify that adware and other downloadable software are from trusted sources.
TRUSTe, a nonprofit that runs a Web privacy seal program and is heading the initiative, said that for adware and software firms to be placed on a download white list, they must prominently disclose the types of ads that will be displayed and personal information that will be tracked, plus obtain user opt-in consent for the download.
It launches in beta early next year.
The white list will be used by companies — starting with Yahoo, AOL, CNET Networks and Verizon — as a tool to make business decisions about advertising or distributing software products.
Advertisers and adware providers have sought ways to gain consumers' trust over the past few years as protests about unwanted software on their computers gained momentum. State and national legislative efforts to control spyware have put these efforts on the fast track.
Verizon began protecting its brand online about a year ago when it pulled back from using adware, and denounced spyware, in a press release.
“What we were finding was the consumer was becoming confused. It wasn't clear who the sources of pop-ups were, and the uninstall process was becoming very difficult,” said Margo Hammar, chief privacy officer at Verizon, New York. “What we were concerned about was … our ads popping up and someone equating a bad experience with Verizon.”
Though adware had proven a “successful component in our marketing programs,” Verizon stopped using it last summer and focused more on banner ads and other online efforts.
“We said, 'Until we see changes in the advertising space online, we're going to be very safe … and go to the forms of advertising that were more predictable,'” Hammar said.
Though Verizon executives are pleased with the new TRUSTe program, it does not mean the company will jump right back on the adware bandwagon.
“Once we're through beta and feel we have a program that can stand on its own merits … we can go forward,” Hammar said. “Until we have that, we'll continue in the mode we have been in.”
Meanwhile, ad networks and adware companies praised the Trusted Download program.
“Adware companies and the online advertising industry see this as an important step forward. Anything we can do to draw guidelines between good and bad advertisers [is good],” said Trevor Hughes, executive director of the Network Advertising Initiative, a group of 90 ad networks, behavioral ad firms and adware companies.
Because of adware and spyware problems, advertisers have not known “where they can safely put their brands online” and consumers feel like they cannot trust the online medium as a whole, Hughes said.
“Advertisers who adopt these best practices will find a much larger pool of advertising inventory available to them, and adopting software distributors will find that advertisers are willing to support their product,” said Deepak Srinivasan, vice president of product management at ad serving firm 24/7 Real Media, New York. “That is good for everyone.”
Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters