The Hidden Money Trail
Rogue affliates both help and harm adware makers. On one hand, they do a remarkably good job of getting the adware installed on PCs. On the other, rogues can anger consumers, embarrass advertisers, and draw lawmakers' ire.
Adware companies we spoke with say they don't tolerate rogue affiliates. Companies cancel affiliate contracts if someone complains, and some conduct internal investigations to ferret out rogues.
Direct Revenue's Maheu, who joined the company in May 2005, says "we give our distributors our guidelines, and if they don't comply, we shut them off." He adds that the company recently cancelled distribution agreements with 8 of the 30 distributors Direct Revenue works with.
"All our distribution will be affiliate-free by the end of the year," Maheu says.
But not all companies are getting rid of affiliates. Affiliates distribute about 80 percent of 180solutions' adware, notes Sean Sundwall, director of corporate communications, adding that he characterizes as "rogues" less than 5 percent (or fewer than 500) of the company's roughly 8000 distribution partners. Last January, 180solutions hired a team to identify and remove deceptive distributors.
In June, 180solutions also took the unusual step of sending pop-ups to 20 million users to notify them that they had its software installed, and to provide removal instructions. In August, the company sued seven former distributors for surreptitiously distributing its software via networks of "zombie" PCs; each zombie was infected with a Trojan horse that let the rogue affiliate control the PC.