Watchdog Claims Cingular and Travelocity Served Ads Via Spyware

A day before a House subcommittee meets to discuss a spyware bill, anti-spyware vigilante Ben Edelman has released examples he says prove already-penalized advertisers are still serving ads through spyware. Edelman claims ads for Travelocity and AT&T’s Cingular were served through spyware applications as recently as last week, despite the fact that these firms, along with Priceline and others, settled with the state of New York in conjunction with its investigation of alleged spyware firm Direct Revenue.

At the time, the advertisers settling with New York agreed to investigate how their online ads would be delivered before choosing ad networks or other ad delivery firms. “Those three advertisers come under a heightened duty,” said Edelman, referring to the New York settlement. “I think it’s right that this stuff would not exist if advertisers wouldn’t pay for it,” he continued.

In one of three examples of Travelocity ads allegedly served via spyware, Edelman discovered a Travelocity pop-up ad served on February 22 by alleged spyware application Web Nexus through Vendare Media’s Traffic Marketplace ad network.

“We’re not using adware,” said Travelocity Manager of Public Relations Joel Frey, when notified of Edelman’s claims. “Allegations that Travelocity is involved with adware/spyware are serious, and we are aggressively looking into this,” added Frey.

Frey also implied Edelman could have an ulterior motive in outing Travelocity, noting the Harvard Law graduate sued the travel site in Massachusetts. Edelman confirmed he sued Travelocity last year in small claims court regarding a hotel reservation payment discrepancy.

An ad promoting Cingular’s GoPhone was served on the otherwise ad-free Google homepage through alleged spyware Fullcontext, according to Edelman. He claims the ad, one of three examples of Cingular ads allegedly served via spyware, was served on February 17 as a result of a traffic swap between the Motive Interactive ad network and Right Media’s Yield Manager ad management platform. Cingular did not respond to interview requests for this story.

Edelman told ClickZ News he found no Priceline ads served through spyware in his post-settlement search.

As presented through packet log data, Edelman implicates Right Media as having distributed spyware-originated traffic to advertisers in four of the six examples provided. Right Media did not respond to interview requests for this story; however, according to its Yield Manager site, “Occasionally a website or software publisher will bundle our ads with spyware or adware without Right Media’s knowledge or consent. In these cases we’re doing everything we can to track down who’s doing it and put an end to it.”

Other companies shown to be involved in serving the Travelocity and Cingular ads include media representation companies Rydium and Vizi Media, and ad network AdMedian. Edelman claims to have tracked more than 12 examples of spyware-served ads from the two advertisers in all since its settlement with New York, some involving traffic distributed through affiliate networks LinkShare and Commission Junction. In addition, Edelman claims Travelocity and Cingular ads were served through alleged spyware applications TargetSaver and Deskwizz/Searchingbooth.

The spyware debate continues tomorrow as U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection convenes for a hearing on “Combating Spyware: H.R. 964, The Spy Act.”

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