180solutions Installation Methods and License Agreement
The Effect of 180solutions on Affiliate Commissions and Merchants - Ben Edelman
[ Installation Methods | License Agreement | Uninstaller Problems | Recruiting Partners by Unsolicited Email ]
Like other unwanted software, software from 180solutions often gets installed on users' PCs in ways that do not obtain users' informed consent. 180 installations use at least four distinct methods:
1. Installation through security holes. I have posted two videos (1, 2) showing 180 software installed through security holes on users' PCs. I have prepared dozens of similar videos over a period of many months. Other researchers have also documented 180 software being installed through security holes in Internet Explorer. (1, 2, 3) When 180 software is installed on users' PCs through security holes, users are not told that software is being installed on their PCs, and users are not asked for (nor do they provide) any approval or consent.
2. Drive-by downloads. Some 180solutions software arrives on users' PCs via drive-by downloads (also known as ActiveX pop-ups). Under this installation method, a user receives a pop-up offering to install certain software while the user is browsing an unrelated web site.
The drive-by popup is particularly misleading because it uses a format identical to the format that provides plug-ins actually needed to view a web page (e.g. the Macromedia Flash Player). In addition, executable code of the 180 software (perhaps) to be installed is copied to a user's computer before the user is told what is taking place, or offered an opportunity to deny consent.
On most computers, the user does receive a single confirmation screen, like that shown at right, before software installation occurs. However, the 180 drive-bys that I have seen neither show nor reference any license agreement whatsoever, whether before or after installation. Furthermore, 180's drive-bys describe themselves only as "180search Assistant" without any mention of 180's pop-up ads, of any license agreement, or of any redirection of or interference with affiliate commissions.
3. Installation via "bundle" distribution partners. 180 software is often installed by "distribution partners" who bundle 180 software with their programs. A full analysis of 180's distribution, and their varied provision of license agreements, is beyond the scope of this document. However, in my examination of programs that bundle 180 software, many fail to disclose this bundling to users in a meaningful way that typical users will see, notice, and understand.
Consider the installation process for Kiwi Alpha, a P2P filesharing program. Kiwi's front page (www.kiwialpha.com) mentions no bundled software. The first step of Kiwi's installer mentions no bundled software (left screen-shot below). The second step of Kiwi's installer offers a scroll box captioned "end user license agreement," enclosing 54 pages of text (e.g. requiring 53 presses of the page-down key to view the entire document) (see center screen-shot below). Software from 180 is mentioned in this document, namely in pages 16 through 33 (right screen-shot below), without even the use of bold-face or all-capital type to alert users to the discussion of a different program beyond that in the first 15 pages.
Importantly, no other text in the Kiwi Alpha installer references 180 (or other bundled software) in any way. Note also that Kiwi is not some "old" or "outdated" program using long-replaced 180 installation methods: c|net download.com reports that Kiwi was added to its index on July 2, 2004, and files in the Kiwi installation package bear date stamps as recent as July 2004.
180solutions agrees that its software is sometimes installed on users' PCs without obtaining users' consent. See its July 2004 lawsuit against two of its partners who had allegedly distributed 180's software in this way.
4. Installation at a user's request. Even if users specifically seek out 180 Zango software from the zango.com web site, users do not generally see a license agreement for Zango. The zango.com web site includes links to a license agreement, but the installation process neither shows users the license, nor draws users' attention to the license specifically (i.e. with wording of the form "after viewing [this license]," where brackets indicate a hyperlink). (Video available on request.)
In addition, when users request 180 software from certain of 180's closest distribution partners, 180 still shows no license agreement. 180's disclosures are also substantially deficient -- using euphemisms like "show web sites" rather than openly stating that 180 shows pop-up advertisements. Finally, some of 180's partners are targeted at children. Details.
180 installation shortcomings are well-known. Others have previously pointed out these and other problems with 180solutions installation methods. See e.g. a recent ClickZ article: "180 Solutions ... software ended up on my hard drive after just one (accidental) click .... If 180 Solutions really wants to go legit ... it should stop such practices immediately."
180solutions staff know about these installation problems. 180solutions staff have previously admitted the general possibility of 180 software being installed in a bundle with other software, without users being told what is happening. See Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, reporting that 180's director of marketing admits that "n-Case could get bundled with other free software programs without the company's knowledge [which] could lead to the n-Case software fastening to individual's computers without their knowledge."
Even if users do manage to obtain and view the 180solutions license agreement (notwithstanding that, for example, the license agreement is not mentioned or linked from 180's drive-by installers), the license agreement does not fully disclose all of 180's practices. The license does explain that 180 software "may collect information about you and the websites you visit." But the license does not mention that 180 software may redirect affiliate commissions payable as a result of the sites from which users make purchases. Indeed, the words "affiliate" and "commission" appear nowhere in the license agreement.
180 software does not always include an uninstaller. Contrary to Windows standards, 180 software does not always include an uninstall program. Instead, users must visit 180's site and download a separate uninstall program -- rather than uninstalling 180 via an entry in Control Panel - Add/Remove Programs like other software. (Screenshot.)
180's uninstaller is convoluted and incomplete. Even when 180 software does include an uninstaller (for example, with the version of Zango I recently installed on a PC in my lab), the uninstall is far from perfect. For one, the uninstall process is complicated -- requiring, in my testing, five different button-presses before uninstall was complete, including pressing a button that appears off-screen on computers running at 800x600 resolution. (Video available upon request.) In addition, 180's uninstaller does not remove all 180 software: In my testing, a Zango DLL is left behind in the "C:\Program Files\Zango" directory, perhaps along with other files elsewhere. Furthermore, DoxDesk reports that the n-CASE uninstall "does not remove the installer control, so if you had the nCase/Inst variant, any web page will be able to re-install nCase without any prompting."
Recruiting Installation Partners via Unsolicited Commercial Email
180 staff members aggressively promote bundling partnerships via unsolicited commercial email to software developers and sometimes even to mailing lists. See e.g. a 2003 email from 180 staff to a gnome mailing list suggesting that gnome bundle software from 180. (The 180 staff person was apparently unaware that gnome is a linux desktop suite -- so 180's Windows-only software cannot be installed on or bundled with gnome. The 180 staff person was apparently further unaware that gnome is open source software, that gnome needs no revenue to survive, and that there is no obvious corporate entity to receive the $0.07 that 180 offered to provide for each user who installs 180 software.) See also other similar messages from 180: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
180solutions also recruits advertisers by unsolicited commercial email. References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 (reporting three copies received), 26 (reporting four copies). Some recipients report (1, 2) that 180solutions obtained their email addreesses by scraping their web sites, and one recipient reports receiving as many as four unsolicited messages from 180 in a single day.