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An industry group formed to promote trust between consumers and websites will begin certifying adware programs starting next year, the organization announced on Wednesday.

The group, TRUSTe, will put programs that meet certain criteria - such as only installing themselves after users accept an explicit agreement and allowing easy removal of the program - on a whitelist of so-called Trusted Download Programs. Sponsors of the organization, such as Yahoo!, AOL, Computer Associates, CNET Networks and Verizon, plan to use the tool to make business decisions, TRUSTe said in its statement.

Adware providers have widely skirted legal boundaries in the past, and trampled over the rights of many PC users by installing a variety of advertising software and spyware without adequate notification to the consumer. Such tactics net the industry a large windfall, with some analysts estimating that each PC installation nets the adware firm $3 a year for a total annual revenue of $2bn in 2004.

Such tactics have faced stiff criticism from consumers and digital rights activists. Media giant Sony BMG is the latest company to come under fire for installing software with inadequate notification. Security researchers found that the company's copy protection used tactics commonly found in the rootkits used by online attackers and did not call out the function of the program before installation.

The Trusted Download Program will better inform users about adware. The program requires that current PC users that have adware on their systems be asked to agree again to have a Trusted Download Program installed on their machines. The program will launch in a beta format early next year. Microsoft and the policy think tank Center for Democracy and Technology provided guidance on the program, according to TRUSTe.

Copyright © 2005, SecurityFocus

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