Did I miss a big chunk of yesterday's TRUSTe news about its initial list of certified Trusted Download firms? When I saw the Mediapost headline, "TRUSTe Gives Nod To WhenU, Snubs Zango," I got that instant frisson we reporters get when we're scooped. The organization told me nothing about Zango not making the cut. Had I neglected to ask which firms applied but didn't make it?
"WhenU made TRUSTe's cut, as did Vomba Network, but Zango, which recently agreed to pay $3 million to settle FTC charges, was among the adware purveyors that weren't certified," noted their story.
Zango Screams "Untrue!" and TRUSTe Won't Tell
I checked in with Zango and TRUSTe and there appears to be no confirmation that Zango has applied for or completed a Trusted Download evaluation. I just got off the phone with Steve Stratz, director of PR for Zango, who told me Zango did not tell Mediapost they were not denied certification (nor that they've applied). The use of the term, "snub" in the headline, he added, "implies that we were rejected...and that is just untrue." He also said the story's note that TRUSTe failed to certify Zango, is "totally untrue."
I spoke to Carolyn Hodge, TRUSTe's marketing director, earlier today. She was adamant that the organization never shares names of companies that have applied or not been certified. "We don't comment on companies that are in process or companies that have applied," stressed Hodge, who told me specifically she has never made a public statement about whether or not Zango applied to the Trusted Download Program. She wouldn't tell me either on or off the record whether Zango had applied, and because she refused to give me a "yes" or "no" -- or even a hint -- off the record, I'd be surprised if others got that out of her or other TRUSTe folks interviewed.
Still, there remains the chance that the information was provided to Mediapost by someone at TRUSTe on background or OTR.
Zango's blog post regarding the whitelist announcement, cited in that other story, is pretty vague, and definitely doesn't confirm the company has applied for the program: "We are working very hard to certify our products and practices with the TRUSTe program standards. Now that the initial round of certified applications has been announced, stayed tuned for more exciting news on this front."
When the Trusted Download Program was originally announced, Zango noted on its blog, "we’re already well on our way to being compliant with these new standards. We expect to be fully compliant by the time TRUSTe formally begins to accept applications for certification early next year."
In November, the company's blog stated, "we have been in contact with TRUSTe and indicated our strong interest in applying for certification."
Indeed, when I spoke with the TRUSTe folks yesterday, they told me most companies interested in obtaining certification have been making requisite changes to their technologies before submitting what can be a pretty pricey application (see details in today's ClickZ story).
What it comes down to is if it can't be confirmed that a company has applied or that its evaluation process is complete, zinging it with a headline like that is inappropriate. Considering my history with that other pub, and the fact that I like the people there, I don't want it to sound like I’m nitpicking or just trying to make the competition look bad, but since I also reported this story (and somehow used the same term, "nod," in my headline), I felt compelled to clear up why that information was not reported in the ClickZ story.
Also, I don't want it to seem as though I'm trying to prop up Zango, because I'm not.
One Other Clarification, This Time on WhenU
To be fair, and since we're on the topic, I made an incorrect statement in my story. I noted that, "WhenU's name was tarnished when courts in the early part of the decade ruled for and against the company for distributing software that confused users as to the source of its pop-ups." It turns out the original ruling against WhenU I referred to (for 1-800 Contacts, Inc.), was overturned and dismissed on appeal.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
March 19, 2014