WhenU, Coupons and Others Get TRUSTe Nod

Over a year since the program’s launch, the first batch of applicants has been deemed worthy of TRUSTe’s Trusted Download approval, including adware firm WhenU. In all, advertising and downloadable applications from seven companies including Coupons, Inc. and Vomba Network were certified. More will follow in coming weeks, according to Truste.

Introduced in November 2005, the Trusted Download Program creates a whitelist for downloadable software, adware and trackware applications that meet specific criteria based on best practices. During a paid application process, software is tested in conjunction with the organization’s partner AppLabs to ensure things like notice and opt-in consent, privacy protection, and ad labeling are in place. Once awarded certification, applications are added to TRUSTe’s whitelist and monitored on a regular and random basis.

“Our expectation is that they’re anonymously checking us all the time,” said WhenU CEO Bill Day. The company received certification for two ad-supported software products, Save and SaveNow. The applications are bundled with products from WhenU’s partners, allowing for free, ad-supported use of multimedia players, games, and other software. The company partners with about 50 software providers, including screensaver provider Freeze.

“Everything we applied for was approved,” added Day, noting the company made about three changes to its software during the certification process. Also in the “Certified Advertising Software” category, TRUSTe certified Vomba Network’s ad-supported screensaver software Vomba.

“One of the key industry issues is showing to advertisers and distributors and portals that [these companies and their applications] are responsible and are not spyware,” said TRUSTe Executive Director and President Fran Maier.

Adware firms especially want that third-party nod. For instance, WhenU’s name was tarnished when lawsuits were filed against it in the early part of the decade, accusing the firm of distributing software that confused users as to the source of its pop-ups. The firm, which plans on unveiling new products and branding efforts this year, eventually won those suits.

Not only have adware firms come under legal fire, even advertisers have had their brands besmirched. Late last month advertisers including Priceline.com, Travelocity.com, and Cingular Wireless were slapped with settlement fines by the State of New York for using Direct Revenue’s software to target their ads to Web users.

“Advertisers have to start looking at who they’re dealing with,” said TRUSTe Marketing Director Carolyn Hodge, noting the Trusted Download Program was created in part to establish industry standards to assist advertisers in choosing software partners.

“We’d be foolish to solely rely on a third-party process to get advertisers to come back,” said WhenU’s Day. However, he added, “Truste is going to aid in the clarification between good and bad.”

Coupons, Inc. also relies on relationships with advertisers, so, said its President Jeff Weitzman, “We wanted to make sure [the Trusted Download Program] properly distinguished between different types of commercial software.” The company’s CouponBar toolbar and its coupon-printing browser plug-in The Coupon Printer were approved as “Certified Downloadable Software.” The applications don’t serve ads, rather, they are used by consumer packaged goods and pharma advertisers such as General Mills, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer to distribute coupons to consumers who have downloaded them.

While the TRUSTe service may have its benefits, they come at a price. In fact, because the application and renewal fee structures are based on the number of affiliate sites distributing the software in question, certification could run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to TRUSTe’s Maier. The larger the network, the more work involved in monitoring all those affiliates to ensure they’re adhering to the program’s rules. Maier believes the payment model could provide an incentive to reduce the number of network affiliates, creating more control over distribution. To be sure, the organization is discussing the creation of certifying networks, too.

Approval in the “Certified Downloadable Software” category also went to Camshare’s Camfrog Video Chat streaming videoconference software; Crawler’s Crawler Toolbar, a Web Search and navigation application; Tacit Software’s search-based networking software Illumio; and NeoEdge’s MostFun casual games software.

UPDATE: The original version of this story stated, “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.” In fact, the original ruling referred to, in favor of 1-800 Contacts, Inc. and against WhenU, was overturned and dismissed on appeal.

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