TRUSTe to legitimize adware

 At least that's what one adware company says.  The announcement of TRUSTe's new certification program has been all over the tech news today, so I'm not going to repeat all the details.

 At least that's what one adware company says.  The announcement of TRUSTe's new certification program has been all over the tech news today, so I'm not going to repeat all the details. CNET's Joris Evers has a good article and you can read the press release from TRUSTe. his morning I read SunbeltBLOG's take, asking "Will the new TRUSTe certification legitimize adware?"

The TRUSTe program requirements, or criteria, can be found in this Word document (open at your own risk) at TRUSTe's site.  TRUSTe lists the program sponsors as CNET Networks, Computer Associates, Verizon, Yahoo! and AOL. Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) is listed as a contributor and the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) is listed as a supporter.

This afternoon I read the 180solutions blog. Here's their take:

We are optimistic with today’s announcement of the TRUSTe "Trusted Download Certification Program", which should finally create meaningful industry standards. Backed by some of the biggest consumer-facing software companies in the world, the stringent (yet fair) criteria announced today should finally create a clear differentiation between legitimate and nefarious programs. The former will survive. Bad actors will not.

Further down the page:

The question will be asked, "Does this legitimize adware?"

The answer is categorically yes. Millions upon millions of consumers around the world have knowingly been saying that for many years. Zealots will continue to disparage targeted advertisements while real-world users and real-world advertisers know they are more effective and helpful than page-embedded advertising.

What TRUSTe’s certification program will do is kill off the bad actors because they will no longer be able to find advertisers willing to support them.

Hats off to TRUSTe.

Then I remembered an analysis of certification programs and industry self regulation written by Eric Howes, spyware and privacy expert. It's very applicable even though the download certification program is not about privacy policies.

The Problem with Privacy Policies & "Industry Self-Regulation"

I must tell you that the use of Privacy Policies can only go so far in protecting your privacy online. I am equally skeptical of the "seal" programs that have been erected around the use of Privacy Policies (e.g., TRUSTe, BBBOnline , NetTrust, or CPAWebTrust).

<snip>

Privacy Policies and "seal" programs are at the heart of the case that opponents of privacy legislation make for industry "self-regulation." There are several fundamental problems, however, with the faith laid in privacy policies and the privacy seal programs that sometimes govern them.

First, one serious flaw in these privacy seal programs (and other similar attempts at "self-regulation") is the very basic conflict of interest which lies at the heart of such arrangements: privacy seal programs like TRUSTe, BBBOnline, or CPAWebTrust are financially dependent on money received from the very web sites and companies they are supposed to be policing. That's a fundamental conflict of interest built on dirty money, and all the professed good intentions found in the endless flood of breathless, over-hyped press releases that emanate from the parties involved cannot wash clean the flawed financial relationship between the seal programs and the sites they are charged with overseeing. These programs have been compromised from the start.

In evaluating the TRUSTe Download Certification program, one has to ask who is going to benefit? It's certainly going to serve adware companies. Is the program going to benefit consumers?  I think that remains to be seen, but you can color me very skeptical.

Update:  I just read the eWeek article where Direct Revenue has said it wants to get certified.  The article also says that Google and Microsoft have decided not to join up at present.  It's a very interesting read.  Apparently I'm not the only one who is skeptical.

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