January 23, 2006 10:04 AM PST

Feds asked to take action against adware maker

An anti-spyware watchdog group has lodged official complaints against 180solutions and one of its partners, dealing a blow to the adware industry's efforts to police itself.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based public advocacy group, filed a pair of complaints with the Federal Trade Commission on Monday. The complaints charge 180solutions and free Web hosting provider CJB.net with engaging in unfair and deceptive business practices.

180Solutions deliberately and repeatedly duped Internet users into downloading intrusive advertising software, according to a Center for Democracy and Technology complaint (download PDF). The company continued these practices even after it pledged to better itself and after receiving warnings from spyware experts and privacy advocates, the group said.

"180solutions has continually made assertions that they have improved or cleaned up their services. CDT has found those assertions to be untrue at best," Ari Schwartz, deputy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said in a press conference call on Monday.

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."

180solutions has long been in the crosshairs of anti-spyware groups. The Bellevue, Wash., company makes software that delivers pop-up ads to people's systems as they perform Web searches. It distributes the software partly on its own, but also relies on third parties such as CJB, a provider of free Web space, for distribution. Those parties get paid for each installation of the software.

Adware and spyware fighters, including the Center for Democracy and Technology, have criticized 180solutions over bad practices on the part of its distributors. These practices include burying download disclosures in lengthy legalese; installing software surreptitiously through Web browser security holes; disguising their brands; and making it tough for people to uninstall the pop-up programs.

Seeking to distance itself from such practices, 180solutions has sued several of its former partners, cut relationships with some partners and made changes to its software. However, throughout that period, the Center for Democracy and Technology received a nearly continuous stream of new complaints about 180solutions and its affiliates, the organization said.

In its complaint, the group asks the FTC to take action against 180solutions and stop the practice of sneaky installations of the ad-serving software, since the company repeatedly failed to adequately police its own distribution network. The watchdog also asks for unspecified financial compensation for those who have been duped into installing the software.

"180solutions and its affiliates have caused immeasurable harm, not just to individual Internet users, but to the Internet itself," Schwartz said. The advertising software is on millions of PCs, the Center for Democracy and Technology has estimated.

The FTC should take decisive action against 180solutions, said Eric Howes, director of malicious software research at Sunbelt Software, a maker of anti-spyware tools.

"This company has had ample opportunity to get its act cleaned up," he said. "At this point, the company has demonstrated that it is either unwilling or unable to make the necessary reforms. Given as much, the authorities are called upon to intervene."

The Center for Democracy and Technology joined with the Technology Law & Public Policy Clinic at the University of Washington School of Law to file the second complaint, which names CJB.

A CJB representative said the complaint against it is "probably based on a misunderstanding" that it hopes to work out soon with the Center for Democracy and Technology. Still, the company will cooperate with any FTC investigation, the representative said: "We look forward to working with the FTC in the investigation and resolution of this matter, if so requested."

180solutions' business model is fundamentally flawed, the Center for Democracy and Technology said in a statement: "Until it is changed, consumers will continue to become unwitting victims of its deceptive software installations."

The group has battled spyware, adware and other online pests before. In 2004, the FTC sued Seismic Entertainment and a former self-styled "Spam King," Sanford Wallace, after a complaint by the Center for Democracy and Technology. That case was considered the first major suit by the regulatory agency in the area of spyware.

The Center for Democracy and Technology also runs the Anti-Spyware Coalition of makers of anti-spyware tools, which is supported by consumer watchdog groups. The Anti-Spyware Coalition is not involved in the FTC complaints.

6 comments

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I have had problems with them too
I had so many problems with 180solutions on my system I had to install anti-spyware software just to keep them from showing up everyday on my system. I hope they are completely shut down because they are not going to clean up their act. If they are shut down, maybe the rest of the spyware companies will pay attention and clean up their act.
Posted by yrrahxob (77 comments )
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I love 'em (VERY Sarcastic)
180solutions made me TONS of money while I was working for a tech company. The adware infestation on the average user's computer was really shocking, and I really hate the way that they work.
Posted by fjellt (18 comments )
Link Flag
Not only 180Solutions but I am sick of View Point!
I am sick of ViewPoint showing up in the control panel! If you are not Antivirus or firewall then you have no right to be in the control panel.

The only extra Icon I can forgive to sit
in the control panel is the AC3 filter.
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
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Don't forget LOP.
The model came from a parasitic company called LOP. Very difficult to get rid of. Their self described "uninstaller" does not get rid of LOP. The company was basically advertising porn to my 13 year old son after ricking him into installing the BHO on IE. I had to use a combination of tools (highjack this et al) to get rid of it.

All people who work for LOP are fair game for legal action IMO. Time to finally act on this!
Posted by Technoracle (18 comments )
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cottage industry sys admins..........
the Feds are killing our neiborhood sys admins!.... I thought spybot would do it... maybe this will be the final blow.... then they will have to have find jobs at compusa...

I miss the good ol' days.... NeXT Step, Irix, SunOS, Win3.1, linux, MacOS 7..............

at least jobs were easier to come by then.... and you didnt have to know some "well endowed" popular cult
Posted by freq (121 comments )
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It's Good to see CJB go down for this too: 180 Sucks
Its good to see CJB go down for this as well as 180 solutions.

I actually noticed this a while back when I mis-typed a URL ending in CJB.net. The page told me that I must download a program in order to view the page. In reality, it was just a 404 page and there was no page there anyway. A quick view of the source code of the 404 page led to zangoapps, part of 180.

CJB has also been involved with Gator and ActiveX installs in the past. CJB as well as 180 deserve to pay for their deceptive practices!!!

BMR777
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.rusnakweb.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.rusnakweb.com</a>
Posted by BMR777 (61 comments )
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