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Zango's adware fox desperate to guard net henhouse

'Kaspersky's got nothin' on us'

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Comment Zango, creator of Hotbar, Seekmo Search Assistant and other adware programs of dubious value to end users, just can't seem to come to grips with reality. It's coughed up a $3m fine to the FTC and abandoned two lawsuits claiming anti-malware providers illegally interfered with its business after being laughed out of just about every court where it's pursued such actions.

But despite a lower-court ruling tossing out a similar suit against anti-virus provider Kaspersky, the purveyor of some of the net's most vapid and un-compelling videos and games continues to press on. Last month, it asked the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a decision by a lower-court judge that held Kaspersky was immune from such lawsuits.

"Just as a police officer who engages in criminal activity enjoys no immunity simply because he or she has been entrusted to fight criminal activity, Kaspersky does not get a 'free pass' to engage in tortious activity merely because it sells anti-spyware software," lawyers argued.

Kaspersky sees things differently. They argue the case is important to anyone who hopes to gain the upper hand over the torrent of spyware, malware or other potentially unwanted content washing into their browsers on a daily basis.

"This case asks whether Kaspersky and other internet security software vendors may continue to distribute such beneficial security software free from pressure by Zango and other purveyors of malware who do not want their malware to be detected," Kaspersky argued in a court document filed Monday. "This case, then, is akin to a cat burglar suing the alarm company."

Zango is the company that resulted from 180Solutions purchase of Hotbar. It wound up in the cross-hairs of the Federal Trade Commission after its software, which silently recorded web searches and browsing history, made its way onto consumers' PCs without their consent. Adding insult to injury, the spyware was frequently hard to remove.

Since then Zango had invested in an extensive image makeover that includes a promise to ensure consumers are explicitly notified before having adware and spyware installed on their machines. Anti-virus companies, such as Zone Labs, PC Tools and Kaspersky have remained skeptical and have warned their users against Zango downloads, much to the company's chagrin. Zango says it's being unfairly harmed by Kaspersky's finding that Zango downloads can lead to material some users may find objectionable, and its seeking a court order that would curb the practice.

At stake in the case is whether companies like Kaspersky are free to protect their customers in a way their researchers best see fit, without interference from outside interests. A win for Zango could set a dangerous precedent allowing any malware provider to challenge anti-virus providers in court.

We believe Zango when it says it has cleaned up its most abusive practices. Pop-up notifications preceding installation of their spyware are more explicit, and it's a lot easier to remove the programs if users later change their mind. Up to now, we've viewed its offerings as little more than crudware that gives very little in return for requiring users to part with their privacy.

But that could all be a thing of the past. If Zango wins, it will once again reclaim the crown as one of the net's biggest parasites. ®

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