DMA Bans Members from Pushing Spyware

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has set up its first requirements governing members’ use of software distribution.

The rules are designed to curb unethical installation practices, the industry group said, as well as to draw a line in the sand it hopes will preserve the legitimate uses of downloaded software. Many online marketers — such as Southwest Airlines with its “DING!” application and Walt Disney with its “Chronicles of Narnia” video podcasts — have been experimenting with using downloadable software as part of their marketing plans.

The guidelines say marketers “should not install, have installed, or use…software that initiates deceptive practices or interferes with a user’s expectation of the functionality of the computer and its programs.” They single out as unacceptable software that relays spam, serves “endless loop pop-up advertising,” or deceptively modifies security or browser settings.

Regarding the use of permissible software downloads, the DMA insists members give notice to users when they join a service or when new software begins operating on their machines. Users are to be informed of all “significant effects” of having the software installed, and must be given a clear means to uninstall the program. Additionally, the trade group asks its members to provide a link to privacy policies and contact info.

The guidelines do not specify exactly what form this notice should take — only that it should be clear and conspicuous.

“Beyond the narrow problems it causes in reductions of performance, hijacking and spreading of spam, [spyware] causes a much more pernicious problem in making consumers less confident in [doing business online],” said Louis Mastria, the DMA’s VP of interactive and emerging media. “That problem drove us to usher this new guideline.”

The DMA’s board approved the guidelines last week, and they henceforth become part of the group’s overarching ethical business practices document. Another trade group, The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), is in the process of developing guidelines for adware applications.

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