Warner Bros. Entertainment has axed a deal to provide content to Zango, a controversial advertising software maker.
Warner Bros. made the deal with Zango earlier this year despite ongoing criticism of the company, formerly named 180solutions. But last week, Warner Bros. terminated the agreement, saying Zango had declined to seek independent certification that its software meets ethical guidelines.
“While we respect Zango’s effort to change its business model, we also take our responsibility to children and parents very seriously,” Warner Bros. said.
Zango spokesman Steve Stratz said the company has already done quality-control checks over its software and download process.
The deal went sour after a Zango ad was placed on a Warner Bros. webpage with other ads including cartoon characters Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones.
Clicking on one of the cartoon ads would temporarily take the user to a page offering content from Zango. If the user did nothing after 10 or 15 seconds, the Zango page would disappear and the page the user wanted would load. However, if the user clicked on links in the Zango page, Zango’s user agreement would come up. This is the first step to installing the Zango adware.
The conflict came from that agreement, which has a prechecked consent box, warning users they could see adult-oriented ads if they download Zango. Users are supposed to be at least 18 years old, but the mix of cartoons and adware didn’t sit well with some.
The design, done by Warner Bros., was poor, Stratz said. “In our case, we are held to a higher standard now, and that’s a spot we shouldn’t have been in,” he said.
The Zango adware monitors a user’s Internet searches, delivering pop-up ads based on those searches at a later time. If a user downloaded Zango and used sexually-related terms in a search, it could prompt an adult-oriented advertisement, Stratz said.
Under the deal with Zango, Warner Bros. provided content to it such as video clips. That content is distributed by Zango to website publishers to fill their sites. But to view the content, the Zango adware must be installed. Zango pays website operators US$0.40 per installation.
Zango has inactivated links to Warner Bros. content used by its affiliate publishers, Stratz said.
Zango’s software has been classified as “spyware” by some security software programs since it transmits data from a user’s computer back to Zango’s servers to enable the delivery of certain kinds of ads.
Zango has continued to be targeted by computer security experts, who contend Zango’s adware is promoted through networks of website operators who used deceptive means to get it installed on computers.
The Center for Democracy and Technology, an online privacy and civil liberties watchdog, filed a complaint in January with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, over what it called “broadly unethical” and “illegal” distribution practices by Zango.
Earlier this month, Zango said one of its developers violated the company’s rules by placing content requiring a download of the adware on a user profile on MySpace.com. The profile was removed from the popular social networking site.
-Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service (London Bureau)
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