A controversial adware company that has twice appeared on the Inc. 500 is the subject of a "public shaming" campaign, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. The company, 180Solutions based in Bellevue, Wash., denies that its softare is adware, an assertion that adware foes reject. Now, as the Seatlle newpaper reported, a watchdog group has released a list of 180solutions' customers in the hopes of rallying consumers to call on these companies to end their relationship with 180solutions. Familiar names on the list include NetZero, Netflix, and eHarmony.
In January, as Inc.com reported, the same group, the D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology, filed two complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, claiming that 180solutions "deliberately and repeatedly" misled people online into into installing its software.
Some readers have suggested that Inc. should ban 180solutions from the Inc. 500. An editor's note in January addressed the issue: "Inc. reserves the right to withhold a listing on the Inc. 500 if we have concerns about a company's business practices.... We took a hard look at 180solutions, and because at the time it seemed the company was taking steps to address the concerns we raised, we decided to give it the benefit of the doubt."
What interests me about this latest turn is that it's only the latest case of bloggers and watchdogs leveraging contacts made over the Internet to harass companies. These blog shame campaigns have replaced the old-fashioned boycott as a way consumers check the behavior of companies. Of course, blog campaigns are much easier to mount and have no obvious economic impact, so we'll see how effective they are going forward. The interesting shift, I think, is that companies are used to pressure exerted on them by their competition, and used to pressure exerted by the government, and used to pressure exerted by their customers, and used to pressure exerted by shareholders.... but now we are seeing instances in which companies are being pressured by the online peanut gallery—concerned citizens and Web-based bystanders. It'll be interesting to see what success rate and reaction blog-oriented watchdog campaigns generate.