CDT asks FTC to stop illegal practices of 180solutions

The Center of Democracy & Technology (CDT) yesterday asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop illegal and deceptive practices of 180solutions, one of the largest developers and distributors of adware software.

In a detailed complaint, CDT outlines a pattern whereby 180Solutions, through a complicated web of affiliate relationships, deliberately and repeatedly attempted to dupe Internet users into downloading intrusive advertising software. The complaint illustrates how 180solutions continued this pattern of practice even after being warned by technology experts, privacy advocates and its own auditors that its practices were unethical, and in several cases, illegal.

“180solutions and its affiliates have caused immeasurable harm, not just to individual Internet users, but to the Internet itself,” CDT Deputy Director Ari Schwartz said. “This company’s brazen distribution practices saddle innocent Internet users with intrusive software that they neither want nor need and contribute to a general sense of wariness and distrust that threatens to stifle the growth of the medium. We are urging the FTC to use all the tools at its disposal to bring these practices to a halt, since 180solutions has repeatedly failed to adequately police its own distribution network.”

According to another CDT complaint, 180solutions and its affiliate CJB.NET are responsible for deceiving customers into installing unsolicited adware programs.

1. Over the past two years, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) has worked with advertising software developer 180solutions, Inc., to assist the company in reforming distribution practices that appear to be unethical and illegal. While 180solutions has undertaken some minor reforms as a result of those talks, unfair and deceptive practices persist throughout much of the company’s distribution network. CDT discovered through its investigations that 180solutions is engaging in a number of deceptive and unfair practices to distribute its software through its affiliate, CJB.NET.

2. Users who sign up for free Web sites hosted by CJB.NET are not told in a clear and conspicuous manner that visitors to their site will be prompted to download software. This constitutes an unfair practice. CJB.NET also uses a deceptive security warning (ActiveX) prompt to dupe people into installing 180solutions’ software, instead of offering users the opportunity to give informed consent. Following the ActiveX prompt, the automatically triggered Web browser windows (pop-ups) soliciting user consent suggest that the site is “supported by advertising.” While most consumers understand a site “supported by advertising” to mean a Web site that contains banner ads delivered by the page, the “advertising” on a CJB.NET Web site actually involves a program that runs continuously and tracks everything that the user does online. As we document in this complaint, the discrepancy between what users expect a Web site that is “supported by advertising” to do and what CJB.NET-hosted sites actually do are the root cause of several types of unfair and deceptive trade practices. CDT urges the Commission to bring a complaint against 180solutions and CJB.NET for unfair and deceptive practices in the installation of advertising software, in violation of section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act).

180solutions, which adware is installed on more than 11 percent of machines infected with spyware and adware parasites (according to the online safety study conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance and America Online), was quite successful in getting a way out of similar situations. Let’s see how 180solutions will manage to answer the CDT complaints.

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