There were a number of interesting articles and comments around the web about the CDT's complaint filed yesterday against adware company 180solutions and CJB.net. News.com's Joris Evers has a good outline and 180solutions representative Sean Sundwall's reaction.
Company spokesman Sean Sundwall said that 180solutions has not yet reviewed the complaints. Both target 180solutions, but the second also addresses CJB's distribution of the company's adware.
"We have made voluntarily improvements to address every reasonable concern that the CDT has made us aware of," Sundwall said. "180solutions and the CDT share the same vision of protecting the rights and privacy of consumers on the Internet."
Last October I blogged that the CDT threatened 180solutions with a complaint which prompted 180solutions to end their partnership with Integrated Search Technologies (IST), however spyware researchers continued to see problematic installations of 180solutions software as noted in the 91 page CDT complaint (large PDF) such as the botnet, rootkit and adware AOL Instant Messaging worm discovery by FaceTime, the installation through an exploit at a crack site witn no notice and consent in late November and yet another installation of 180solutions software earlier this month in an AIM exploit tied to a bot net controlled by hackers in the Middle East. Spyware expert and Director of Malware Research at Sunbelt Software Eric Howes made some telling statements here about 180solutions failure to clean up their practices.
The stunning thing to me is that 180Solutions has been well aware of rampant problems with distributors and they sat back and allowed it to go on.
"That's what I think is so important about this complaint, that there's a fundamental problem in their business model," said Eric Howes, the director of malware research at anti-spyware software maker Sunbelt Software, and one several researchers cited by the CDT for helping it investigate 180solutions' adware practices.
"I told them the same thing last fall, and their response was unambiguous," said Howes. "'No, we won't change,' that's what they said."
Indeed, 180solutions has had ample opportunity to change. The CDT complaint documents 180solutions practices back to January 2004, 2 years ago, including how the CDT has been in contact with the company urging them to clean up their practices. I think this complaint is very much warranted and I join the CDT in urging the FTC to pursue the complaint.
One point that should be made but was not addressed in the CDT complaint, that even under the best of circumstances, 180solutions' installation practices leave a lot to be desired. Adware/spyware exepert Ben Edelman recently documented a 180solutions installation at a kid's site and noted problems with lack of full disclosure of the software's functionality, i.e. showing pop-ups on the user's desktop; misleading use of buttons on the dialogue box, use of dialogue boxes that are more difficult for users to read and hiding standard Windows buttons that allow users to cancel installation.
The CJB.net complaint notes that 180's partner CJB.net, a site that offers free webhosting and other services, was targeted for not disclosing their use of adware on the so-called free web sites hosted there. When I blogged at SpywareWarrior about the second grade teacher's website prompting to download Zango, I thought surely CJB.net had some disclosure to people signing up for the free web sites. I actually signed up for a free site there myself to see what the process entailed and was dismayed to find there was NO disclosure of the adware as noted in the CDT's complaint. The only mention of advertising on the sites was on their policies page:
CJB Management, Inc. reserves the right to send you advertisements and promotional offers and to place advertisements on the services we provide to you. You authorize CJB Management, Inc. to provide your contact information to third parties for the purpose of sending you advertisements and promotional offers.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised since I knew CJB.net had a reputation for using adware, especially gator (now Claria), as long as 4 years ago.