Did Digg cause the Zango / Warner Brothers Rift?


The question on everybody's lips right now (well probably not, as it happened over the weekend but still..) is:

How much impact did this have on Zango pulling out of their Warner Brothers deal?

Digg.com is a well known source of breaking news stories, and often those stories spring into life well before many journalists are aware that the tale has come, gone and been again due to its rapid spread and rather large reach. A story was recently submitted to Digg with a rather spectacular title:

"Warner Bros website distributing Zango Spyware + Kiddy porn browser".

As someone who follows Zango extremely closely, I nearly fell off the chair when I saw this hit the frontpage of Digg. Could something have gone so amazingly wrong with Zango's distribution chain that someone had gamed the system (once again) and started serving up illegal pornography from the Warner Brothers site courtesy of Zango?

The answer is no. The story submitted to Digg takes the user to a Blog entry dated Thursday, 11th May 2006. Contained within are a number of factual errors, where various Zango related stories have meshed into one, messy whole - however, when the story was re-submitted to Digg last weekend (after being submitted for the first time a few months back and getting nowhere), the submitter added the rather inflammatory title into the mix and people went crazy voting for the thing. End result, a factually incorrect story slamming onto the frontpage of Digg and causing major, major ripples in the Adware space into the bargain.

We think.

Because in all honesty, there's no real way to tell exactly how much impact this submission had on Zango pulling out of the Warner Brothers deal. The first inkling that something was afoot was an article that hit the Washington Post, courtesy of Brian Krebs. This appeared the day after the Digg article went boom, and inside sources tell me that something was definitely going on in that timespan. The question...is what. In reality, we have no way of knowing who reads Digg, but as someone who has been Dugg a lot of times, I have a good feel for the way it works with regards to the way a story leaks into the media. I've had at least one story "break" from Digg - as an example...

BitTorrent Installed without Permission, Downloads Movie Files

The above story was part of a larger investigation. We didn't put out a press release about it, but we did fire it up as a Blog Article and let it loose. Now, that story was picked up by mainstream press and exploded - a clear indicator of the power of Digg. So, it is not impossible that such a massively dugg story such as the Zango / Warner Bros story could end up hitting in the right places. Especially as many, many people who voted for the piece also submitted their feelings about this to Warner Brothers directly.

At this point, I imagine they saw the title involving illegal pornography, maybe did a little Googling about Zango and got just as confused as some of the facts involved here. It doesn't help that findings about Zango and Myspace hit at roughly the same time as this story (well, the whole of July, actually) - in fact, I had a Digg going on at the same time as the Warner Bros story. In fact, someone suggested people Digg my story from the Warner Bros Digg too - leading to the strange site of two Zango related stories hitting first and second place in the Digg Security Section:

Click to enlarge

In fact, I actually saw a few pieces covering the story that mixed up the details from both the Zango on Myspace story and the Zango / Warner Bros article. As the Zango / WB story on Digg is now flagged as "inaccurate", many of you have asked me to straighten things out with regards the facts surrounding this whole mess - which is mainly the reason I've written this up in the first place. Though I'm no expert on the Zango / Warner Bros situation, I do know my stuff where the "illegal content" comes into play in all of this. With that in mind, here's my attempt to ease your mind...

1) "Warner Bros website distributing Zango Spyware + Kiddy porn browser"

This is entirely incorrect. The Warner Bros website was distributing Zango Adware (not "spyware"), and at no point in time did it distribute a "kiddy porn browser". The writer has confused a number of pieces of information - in this case, the "kiddy porn browser" is something called Yapbrowser.

Yapbrowser was a web-browser that (for a short period of time) was distributed with Zango Adware. When you used the browser, it redirected you to a 404 error page that contained hardcore child pornography. The Zango Adware itself did not have any connection with the child pornography, other than their software was bundled with the web browser. Once the revelation of the browser's "hidden feature" was brought to light, Zango removed themselves from distribution with Yapbrowser. Zango's main failing here is that they clearly did not test the Yapbrowser application enough, because they would have realised one click of the browser's "go" button was enough to send you to the illegal content. This doesn't say a great deal about the policing of their affiliates, but they were not responsible for serving up the offending content in any way.

Simply because Zango Adware was launched from the Warner Bros site does not mean visitors were at risk from anything "illegal" appearing on their desktop.

2) "They are also the people behind this alleged child porn browser. They are also the people who still silently install their software on your pcs".

This is taken from the Blog entry that caused all the commotion. Again, this is incorrect. Zango were not responsible for the browser - indeed, the article the Do Not Reply blog links to actually states as much:

"So who is this "Enigma Global Inc" that the YapBrowser installer claims is responsible for the program?"

These are the two main points that people asked me to address, because after seeing the Digg story and knowing that their kids visit the Warner Bros website, they were suddenly panicking like nothing else at the thought they might have illegal pornography on their desktops.

I'm all for taking a company apart in public when needed - but in my opinion, this was entirely the wrong way to go about it. It freaked out too many people through no real reason other than inaccuracy, and I know one person actually scrubbed their hard drive because they thought the police were going to "kick the door in" or something. However you angle it, that's not a particularly pleasant situation for people to be in. The original Yapbrowser story was bad enough - in fact, it's probably the nastiest investigation I've ever been a part of - but dragging it up from the depths to cause needless panic was rather unnecessary. "The end justifying the means" is always a tough one to call, but in this case, it's way too close to the line for my liking.

Would I feel different if I hadn't been involved in the Yapbrowser shambles?


All I can say on this occasion is - this is one of the few times a story about Zango did not get a vote from me. Still, who knows what the future holds...!

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This page contains a single entry by Christopher Boyd published on July 31, 2006 5:56 AM.

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