A few spyware vendors, notably WhenU and 180 Solutions, have written what the New York Times has dubbed “stealware”, and what spyware-researcher Ben Edelman terms affiliate fraud, also known as click fraud. These redirect the payment of affiliate marketing revenues from the legitimate affiliate to the spyware vendor.
Affiliate marketing networks work by tracking users who follow an advertisement from an “affiliate” and subsequently purchase something from the advertised Web site. Online merchants such as eBay and Dell are among the larger companies which use affiliate marketing. In order for affiliate marketing to work, the affiliate places a tag such as a cookie or a session variable on the user’s request, which the merchant associates with any purchases made. The affiliate then receives a small commission.
Spyware which attacks affiliate networks does so by placing the spyware operator’s affiliate tag on the user’s activity—replacing any other tag, if there is one. This harms just about everyone involved in the transaction other than the spyware operator. The user is harmed by having their choices thwarted. A legitimate affiliate is harmed by having their earned income redirected to the spyware operator. Affiliate marketing networks are harmed by the degradation of their reputation. Vendors are harmed by having to pay out affiliate revenues to an “affiliate” who did not earn them according to contract. 
Affiliate fraud is a violation of the terms of service of most affiliate marketing networks. As a result, spyware operators such as WhenU and 180 Solutions have been terminated from affiliate networks including LinkShare and ShareSale.
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