There is little doubt the companies highlighted by Edelman have no interest in seeing their ads in adware, experts say. Earlier this year both Cingular and Travelocity agreed to pay fines of $30,000 to $35,000 to settle an investigation by the New York Attorney General's office into their use of DirectRevenue adware. In the settlement, both Cingular and Travelocity promised "to investigate how their online ads are delivered" and to ensure ads were not distributed by adware surreptitiously installed on users' computers.
"We are the victims here," says Joel Frey, a Travelocity spokesperson, explaining that some of the company's partners made deals with adware firms despite Travelocity's policy against the practice.
Some advertising experts say companies shouldn't be absolved of their responsibility to control their online advertising. "They have the power to monitor their own ads, and so they should," says Kevin Heisler, analyst at Jupiter Research. By pleading ignorance, he says, companies risk feeding the nuisance of spyware by supporting its proliferators with ad dollars.
Advertising industry representatives, though, maintain that the connection between adware and online advertisers is complicated. Web advertising relies on a byzantine network of affiliates that pay one another to display ads.
Online advertising is very new, and "obviously there are kinks to be worked out," says Sheryl Draizen, spokesperson for the Interactive Advertising Bureau. But, Draizen adds, for every rogue advertiser there are ten honest ones.
What You Can Do
Jupiter's Heisler says fed-up consumers should complain loudly to the companies that advertise--intentionally or unintentionally--via adware. If advertisers actually enforced a zero-tolerance policy, he says, it would eliminate much of the economic incentive for spreading adware.