Enter Aureate Media (now Radiate). Radiate has emerged as one of the leading suppliers of the software used by second party programmers to incorporate ads in their programs. Hundreds of programs, such as CuteFTP and Go!Zilla, display ads from the Radiate network (here's a full list). These programs stay in contact with Radiate in order to provide basic marketing information. But just what is the extent of the information sent to Radiate? Therein lies the rub.
Steve Gibson, of the Gibson Research Corporation, explains that "the spark that started this controversy was a private research disclosure made by Dale A. Haag of the Net-Defender web site. The preliminary and cautious observations he made about the behavior of Aureate's advertising software, after the installation of CuteFTP and also after its removal, and which he posted to a limited-distribution mailing list, were blown out of all proportion and grossly distorted." Due to these responses to his original observations, Haag prepared a press statement to clarify his position. It can be downloaded as a zipped PDF file.
Radiate's response to the reports of privacy intrusions supposedly committed by its ad software was to post a disclaimer page that begins:
"Recently there have been false rumors circulating that Radiate...is secretly collecting data from users of software in the Radiate Network. These rumors have included accusations such as collecting hard drive information, tracking where users surf, stealing system registry information, and 'spying' on user activity. All of these accusations are false."
Still, their explanations do raise some concerns, not the least of which is the result of this seemingly innocuous statement:
"We deliver advertisements to your computer. These advertisements are displayed when you are using one of the software applications that is part of our network. These advertisements help pay for the software, allow the software company to give it to you at a discount, or often free-of-charge.
In some cases, ads will be delivered to you computer even when the ad-enabled application is not running. In this case, ads will be delivered when you launch your web browser. Ads will be stored on your hard drive, and then viewed the next time you run the ad-enabled application. This allows us to deliver ads to applications which may be run when you are not online (such as a game), and allows you get that game free-of-charge."
The upshot is that you may be downloading advertisements to your computer even when not running the ad-supported software. This affects your system, both because of the program that must run to download the ads, and because the extra data to download can only slow your Internet connection. As well, Radiate software is not detected by firewalls such as BlackIce Defender or ZoneAlarm. Without a packet sniffer, forget about noticing that it is running.
Furthermore, Radiate admits that "In some cases, uninstalling software that uses our technology may fail to properly uninstall our ad-serving component." This is unacceptable that a supposedly uninstalled program is still running and downloading ads to your hard drive. Other users have reported random browser crashes and General Protection Faults after attempting to uninstall ad-supported programs. At least Radiate has posted a fix for this, which can be found here.