Website Supply Chain Ethics: Zango & Warner Bros.

From the Washington Post: Warner Bros. To Cut Link With Adware Firm Zango: ‘Inappropriate Material’ Could Reach Children

Warner Bros. Studios, home to Bugs Bunny, Scooby Doo and Harry Potter, said yesterday that it plans to terminate a business relationship with Zango Inc., an adware company that has been offering free games on the Warner Bros. Web site in exchange for permission to install a computer program that could push advertisements and pornography.

Zango is offering free downloads of games on a Warner Bros. Web page called “Fun Stuff” that appears to be for children. But when users click on the game, they’re directed to a page that asks for permission to install on the computer a program called Zango Search Assistant. Hidden in the terms of agreement is the disclosure that users may receive adult-oriented ads through it.

Basically, Zango is in the “Adware” business, which means that they’re in the business of installing — or rather, trying to get YOU to let them install — software that brings ads (pop-ups) to your computer desktop. Adware companies probably ought not be lumped together in one seedy pile. Some of them quite literally deceive computer users into installing their software, software which can then spawn dozens of pop-up ads, whereas others merely offer users the option of accepting ads as the quid pro quo for some legitimate service. The problem, here, is that Zango was giving visitors to the Warner Bros website the “option” of installing their software. In particular, the problem was that lots of visitors to Warner Bros’ website are kids, and at least some of the ads served up by Zango’s adware are ads for adult services & websites.

Now, under U.S. law…

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act bars Web site operators from collecting personal information about children under age 14 without parental consent. Zango notes that the person who agrees to install the software must be over 18. But the box that confirms the user’s age on the Warner Bros. site is already checked, by default.

Here’s a screen-cap of one of Zango’s “agreements”:

So it certainly looks like Warner Bros did the wise (i.e., both prudent and ethical) thing by breaking its deal with Zango. But it’s also important to see just how easily this sort of thing can happen. In the rush to flood corporate websites with the all-important content that all the web-gurus say websites need, companies liker Warner Bros can end up in situations like this all too easily. Caveat emptor.

Relevant Links:
Wikipedia entry on Adware[Wiki-warning]
Warner Bros.
Zango, per Wikipedia [Wiki-warning]

Relevant Books:
Malware: Fighting Malicious Code, by Ed Skoudis and Lenny Zeltser
Computer Viruses and Malware (Advances in Information Security), by John Aycock

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