RealTime IT News

Microsoft Takes Legal Aim Against Spyware

We've all seen those incessant pop up ads that claim that our PCs are infected with spyware and we need to purchase product "X" to clean our machine. What happens if that product doesn't work and in fact is a fraud itself?

Microsoft is taking legal action against one such company alleging that Secure Computer LLC, "used deceptive pop-up ads to warn users that their computers were at risk and could contain spyware."

Nancy Anderson, deputy general counsel for Microsoft explained that at the heart of the case is the allegation that Secure Computer LLC was misleading people into thinking that if they paid for $49.95 they would get a product that would do something.

"The product did not do what it was purported to do," Anderson told internetnews.com. "They raised false alarms with people and the risks they had, they misrepresented who they were by suggesting they were from Microsoft."

"There was a web of deception that they preyed upon consumers with."

Microsoft filed the lawsuit in the state of Washington, which itself is also taking legal action against Secure Computer. The action by the attorney general of Washington State and Microsoft is the first under the recently-enacted Washington Computer Spyware Act.

Under the act, computer software is not allowed to transmit or collect information about a user's computer without the permission of the user. It also prohibits the misrepresentation of software that claims to be required for security or privacy that really isn't.

Secure Computer LLC is a New York State-based company but Anderson noted that it makes sense to bring the action in Washington State for a number of reasons. Microsoft wanted to take advantage of the Washington Spyware law, and, among others, Microsoft is alleging harm to Washington consumers. The kinds of deceptive practices outlined by Microsoft's action are also protected under state consumer protection laws that every state has as well.

It's not entirely clear at this point the total magnitude of the alleged damages wrought by Secure Computer LLC. Anderson explained that the magnitude will be developed during the course of litigation.

"We believe that it preyed on thousands of consumer and bilked consumer in the aggregate of thousands if not millions of dollars," Anderson added. "There is a magnitude issue in addition as we had consumers of Microsoft who complained to us that they had been defrauded for spending good money on bad stuff."

The fight against spyware and those who prey on fear of spyware will continue at Microsoft.

"We continue to focus our investigative and technical resources against this problem," Anderson said. "So for sure you will see more of this."