Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

A Interview with 180Solutions' CEO

What follows below is some of the material that ultimately got cut from my magazine piece on botnets and spyware for space considerations. Here's what I wrote about my visit to 180solutions and subsequent interviews with several company executives:

As I wander the halls of the 180solutions mother ship in Bellevue, Wash., I notice that each of the company's departments is fitted with large, wall-mounted plasma screen televisions that display graphs charting 180's daily and weekly sales and revenue numbers. The display nearest the marketing department showed that 180 pulled in more than $1 million in the past week alone serving ads to people who have its adware installed on their computers. Today's estimated revenue is slightly more than $100,000; the graph showing how much the company has actually earned so far today reads $2,966, but then again it is just after 10 a.m.

Shortly after arriving at 180, I sit down with the company's co-founder and chief executive, Keith Smith. I ask Smith about the criticism that his company's software too often ends up on PCs without the owner's knowledge or permission, and how he thinks the company's "users" view the quality of their software.

Smith says most users are happy with the product and fully understand the trade-offs involved in viewing "targeted ads" in order to get free stuff. He also claims that "very few" of the company's users have asked to have the software removed from their computers, citing recent customer surveys that found 60 to 70 percent of users of "Zango" -- the company's flagship offering -- said they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied."

Zango is marketed to "affiliates" -- Web site owners who want to earn commissions by requiring visitors to install 180's software in exchange for viewing content on those sites. According to 180's Web site, at any given time 7,500 to 10,000 Web sites distribute the company's Zango software.

Smith also denied allegations leveled by some anti-spyware activists that the company's software is marketed mainly to teenagers and children, saying women aged 25 to 40 made up nearly 60 percent of the company's user base.

"The games we offer aren't like console-based action games, which have an audience of mostly young men," Smith said. "Most of our offerings fall into the 'casual gaming' market, the kind of game you can play with one hand and half a brain."

Seated at a round table in the center of his spacious glass office, Smith explains the company's grand vision of "enabling the 'Long Tail' of the Internet."

The "Long Tail" is a catchphrase among the executives at 180; it refers to a term coined by Wired magazine writer Chris Anderson in October 2004 (and since expanded into a blog). Anderson's idea holds that the future of entertainment -- and by extension most large, successful Internet businesses -- lies not just in capturing or selling a few megahits but also in realizing the value of "the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream."

Examples of companies achieving success by embracing the Long Tail are abundant: Netflix.com edged out Blockbuster's stranglehold on the video rental market by stocking thousands of less popular movies that Blockbuster couldn't justify keeping on its shelves. Another example -- Amazon.com -- sees more than half of its book sales coming from outside of its top 130,000 titles.

By offering a revenue stream to the "tens of thousands of small Web sites that wouldn't otherwise have a way to monetize their content, 180 is enabling the Long Tail of the Internet and building a platform where ... with a couple $100 advertising buys, these lesser-known Web sites can attract valuable traffic," Smith said.

At present, more than 90 percent of 180solutions' advertising business comes from thousands of tiny sites. According to Anderson's theory, however, companies that are only or mostly Long Tail -- those that don't cater to at least some mass market -- nearly always fail in the long run.

In his seminal article, Anderson pointed to the experience of MP3.com, which allowed anyone to "upload music files that would be available to all. The idea was the service would bypass the record labels, allowing artists to connect directly to listeners." MP3.com later went out of business, and Anderson posits that "it's in large part because it was only the long tail. ... Indeed, MP3.com got a reputation for being exactly what it was: an undifferentiated mass of mostly bad music that deserved its obscurity."

Smith said he sees few parallels between MP3.com and 180's business model, and maintains that the company is near to closing deals with several large content providers who should help even the ratio of large to small clients: "What's interesting is that if you look at really popular types of content out there on our network, many of them started out in the Long Tail and migrated to the Head.""

After a full day of meetings with at least five 180solutions executives, I am ready to head back to my hotel near the airport. It is just after 5:30 p.m. and several employees can be seen packing up their things. A final walk past the marketing department's LCD display indicates that 180 has made $96,000 serving online ads today, just shy of the $100,000 that the company's automated systems forecast earlier this morning. Still, the day is not over yet: While 180 employees may be headed for the parking lot, the company's software is still churning out ads on more than 20 million computers around the globe.

By Brian Krebs  |  February 17, 2006; 5:41 PM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Just Your Basic Windows User
Next: Botnets: A Global Pandemic

Comments

When the F.B.I. finally issues a bench warrant for Keith Smith, I hope you will post a PDF of it on Security Fix, as a warning to the other scum sponsoring the botnets.

In addition to traditional security measures, I recommend additional steps to keep 180's garbage out of a computer.

1. Install a block list of known hostile web sites into Internet Explorer's Restricted Zone. And configure the Restricted Zone to be as restrictive as possible.
http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/restricted.htm

2. Use a customized HOSTS file to block all contact with known hostile sites and ad servers.
http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm

3. Use both 1 and 2; two lines of defense are better than one. Keep both 1 and 2 updated.

Posted by: Ken L | February 18, 2006 3:10 AM | Report abuse

That's all well and good for IE, but what about links of "bad guys" that will work with FireFox extensions like "AdBlock"?

FireFox blows the doors off IE, anyway. With AdBlock and the new NoScript extensions, this stuff cannot get into your machine without you deliberately accepting it.

Posted by: Firefox user | February 18, 2006 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Kevin should die of aids.

Posted by: koma | February 18, 2006 8:39 AM | Report abuse

firefox user: yes, newer browsers help. these companies are making their money by installing their software on those machines that will _never_ get software updates or changes. there is still a lot of those machines out there...

Posted by: painful truth | February 18, 2006 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I tell you this kind of crap just figures. With all the good on the net comes the bad too. Its 2bit companys like that that ruin it for the rest of us people. You're best defense is a good anti-spyware tool like counterspy and as mentioned FF with noscript and adblock. Additionaly for all you XP users , don't do day to day stuff logged in as a admin user, use a limited account for that. You'll be surprised at how much that alone can save you from.

Posted by: Paul M | February 18, 2006 10:18 AM | Report abuse

It's too bad Brian wasn't able to get back with those clowns over at 180 to see what they have to say about the recent lawsuits by the CDT:
http://www.cdt.org/press/20060123180release.pdf

I guess maybe there are not quite as many "satisfied" or "very satisfied" customers after all eh?

Oh, wait I know, he got the numbers backwards, it's more like 60-70% of the users DIDN'T want that crapware pushed via third party affiliates (those damn affiliates) via unprotected PCs.

One can only hope that the people who have given these lowlifes the big bucks will wake up and decide to move onto more respectable ventures and pull their collective heads out of the sand.

Posted by: TeMerc | February 18, 2006 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Man, these guys are right down the street from my house... I always wondered what they did.
How is their product a solution lol.
---------------------------------
http://twentysomething.blogs.com

Posted by: Jimmy | February 18, 2006 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I noted the comment "the kind of game you can play with one hand and half a brain." Pity you didn't publish that as then the "users" would know what he really thinks about them.

Posted by: Ian Farquharson | February 18, 2006 11:53 PM | Report abuse

I dont know why you complain so much. i am "very satisfied" with all the popups i get all the time. is like playing a game of space invaders, but instead of aliens there are popups.

thank you kevin!

Posted by: the mole | February 19, 2006 6:36 AM | Report abuse

Yes, it's wrong what he is doing. But is it? These guys are helping administrators and computer technicians keep their jobs. In reference to the comment above: "In addition to traditional security measures, I recommend additional steps to keep 180's garbage out of a computer." I think it's nice of them to help noobs install this software on their computer. What if there wasn't viruses or spyware? Would there really be a need for people to charge $60.00 an hour to remove some silly application. This would put a lot of people out of business.

Also, can you really blame these guys for coming up with such a good marketing scheme? Notice how the interview goes.

"Seated at a round table in the center of his spacious glass office."

That sounds pretty appealing to me. You can't hate them for trying to earn a nice pay check every few days. Just for people clickin on ads that pop up. I just had about 3 pop ups writing this. They didn't hurt my feelings, I clicked on them to just to see if anything interesting would happen.


Posted by: jonny on the spot | February 19, 2006 7:26 AM | Report abuse

>>He also claims that "very few" of the company's users have asked to have the software removed from their computers, citing recent customer surveys that found 60 to 70 percent of users of "ZangoCash" -- the company's flagship offering -- said they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied."

Mr. Smith can kill two birds with one stone -- mitigate, instantly and forever, the adverse effects of "illicit installations" of his company's products *and* provide convincing evidence of his good faith -- by directing his technical staff to make *all* of 180solutions' software products *completely* uninstallable by Windows' approved means: through the Add/Remove Programs applet in Control Panel (&/or those third-party programs which understand & follow the same format but delve more deeply).

What say you, Mr. Smith?

Ken L wrote:
>>1. Install a block list of known hostile web sites into Internet Explorer's Restricted Zone. And configure the Restricted Zone to be as restrictive as possible.

If you set *everything* to Disable in the Internet zone, as you should:
http://www.spywarewarrior.com/uiuc/btw/ie/ie-opts.htm#security
then configure the Restricted Sites zone in the exact same way, and have no sites in that list,
(and don't forget to change these IE settings too:
http://www.spywarewarrior.com/uiuc/btw/ie/ie-opts.htm#other
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1625127,00.asp
)

. . . this achieves 99% of the desired result, since *all* sites not in the Trusted Sites zone essentially are blocked from running ActiveX, Java, and JavaScript by default. And, you don't have to always be playing catch-up with the latest "block list of known hostile web sites" -- unless you really want to.

jonny on the spot wrote:
>>Yes, it's wrong what he is doing. But is it? These guys are helping administrators and computer technicians keep their jobs. [...] What if there wasn't viruses or spyware? Would there really be a need for people to charge $60.00 an hour to remove some silly application. This would put a lot of people out of business.

Broken Window fallacy.
http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basEss1.html

Posted by: Mark Odell | February 19, 2006 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Nice reply Mark, also nice link on explaining the the Broken Window Fallacy. It's very interesting to see that they were throwing these ideas around since the 1800's.

I encourage everyone to check out his link. Then think of it in terms of the economy today and relate some technology into the picture instead of the broken window.


Posted by: jonny on the spot | February 20, 2006 5:28 AM | Report abuse

Need to be readed.

Posted by: rape stories | June 15, 2006 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Well i have Zango installed on my CPU and i havent recieved any viruses yet, but i do hate the pop ups, its too bad its requiered to run my software. I also think that it is plain BS that this company or any other company of the same likeliness can simply write a simple program that causes a Net Window to pop up at random and make millions of dollars. Meanwhile while hes stockpiling money into a bank somewhere people who bust there rears to put food on a table and pay bills dont make a smigeon of comparable cash. This Kevin fellow is just the same as most large, rich, BS buisness' such as certain oil companies that suck the public dry and still want more. They dont see a big picture at all....there picture is small....about the size of a dollar bill. Sorry for spelling, i type too fast.

Posted by: Gordon | August 19, 2006 1:31 AM | Report abuse

The end of the f....king world will be ushered in by the failure of pinheaded punks to understand the complex concept called PRIVACY.
dO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT THE ONLY WAY FOR THE e-commerce segment to succed is by using "theft-by-privacy rape?
No wonder no one has foud bin Laden!!!

Posted by: Henry | September 28, 2006 5:36 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company