The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) has just announced complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against adware company 180solutions and its partner CJB.net. From the press release, which can be found here (PDF):
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."
The complaint against 180solutions chronicles their practices for the past 2 years. The actual complaint, a 15 MB PDF file, can be downloaded here.
A separate complaint filed against 180solutions partner CJB.net can be downloaded here.
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).
The CJB.net references a post on my SpywareWarrior blog called "180solutions sponsors class of second graders in Ohio". A screenshot and video show the aggressive Zango prompts at the second grade teacher's website and on CJB.net URLs with no content. I'll blog about these complaints in more detail later today.