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February 6, 2006

The downside of ad-supported software is some of the advertisers

Posted by David Hunter at 11:44 AM ET.

Robert McMillan at Infoworld has a detailed report in Paid search results often not worth the click:

Microsoft Corp. does not think much of Secure Computer LLC. It says the company and its partners have “exploited computer users,” and that the company’s antispyware product is of “questionable effectiveness.” Last week, it went so far as to join forces with the Washington state attorney general and sue the White Plains, New York, company over its business practices.

And yet, more than a week after the lawsuits, Microsoft is still running ads for the company’s Spyware Cleaner software on its MSN Web site. Why? Welcome to the murky world of paid search, where the ads that pop up can lead to big money for the search companies, and big headaches for unsuspecting users.

Another example quoted in the article describes how a Google search for reports on the weather in Stowe, Vermont lead to a spyware infestation. This problem isn’t all that much different than publishing ads in other media – the publisher has to have a process for handling complaints and weeding out the duds.

Search engine companies are clearly aware of the problem, but some others, like Google, are vague about what they are doing to address it. Yahoo Inc.’s Search Marketing uses a combination of software and a “human editorial team that actually takes a look at questionable listings,” a company spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft’s public relations agency confirmed that the company does use some filters to control how sponsored ads appear, but declined to comment further.

Microsoft was also unable to explain why ads for Secure Computer’s products were still being advertised via its adCenter paid search service, saying the MSN’s product is still being tested and that Microsoft has not yet documented its usage policies.

One day after IDG News informed Google about Richard Smith’s experiences with WeatherStudio, the software was no longer advertised in a search for “Stowe Weather.”

It sounds like they all have a way to go and Microsoft further than the others.

Filed under Advertising, Coopetition, General Business, Google, MSN, MSN Search, Security, Spyware, Yahoo

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