180solutions Spyware Practice Far From Perfect
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The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) Monday accused 180solutions, one of the world's largest developers of Internet advertising software, of "deliberately and repeatedly" engaging in illegal and deceptive spyware practices.
In a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the CDT urged 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 Bellevue, Wash.-based 180solutions sells advertising and distributes advertising software on its own Web sites and through a complicated network of affiliates.
According to the CDT, once the software is installed, often without consent, it tracks users' online movements and displays advertisements based on the sites they visit.
"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 in a statement. "This company's brazen distribution practices saddle innocent Internet users with intrusive software that they neither want nor need."
In an e-mail response to internetnews.com, Sean Sundwall, 180solutions's director of corporate communications, said the company has not yet seen the CDT complaint, but "180solutions and the CDT share the same vision of protecting the rights and privacy of consumers on the Internet."
Sundwall said in the statement, his company and CDT enjoy a "healthy working relationship" and that 180solutions has "voluntarily" made improvements to "address every reasonable concern that the CDT has made us aware of."
A December online safety study conducted by America Online and the National Cyber Security Alliance reported that 61 percent of the study's respondents had spyware on their computers. Of that 61 percent, 11 percent had 180solutions software on their machines.
In addition, Webroot has consistently ranked 180solutions as one of its top 10 spyware distributors.
The CDT, a Washington, D.C.-based public advocacy organization, said it had been investigating 180solutions for more than two years. Schwartz said the company was initially cooperative with the CDT, halting certain practices and filing lawsuits against some of its affiliates illegally distributing its advertising software.
Ultimately, though, the CDT concluded that 180solutions's underlying business model is "fundamentally flawed, and that until it is changed, consumers will continue to become unwitting victims of its deceptive software installations."
Schwartz added, "We're deeply disappointed that we weren't able to convince 180solutions to clean up its practices. CDT would always prefer to resolve issues of this sort through dialogue and voluntary improvements, but in this case we tried and were unable to reach an agreement that protects consumers."
In its FTC complaint, the CDT claims 180solutions was warned by technology experts, privacy advocates and its own auditors that the company's practices were, at a minimum, unethical and in some cases illegal.
"Despite CDT's reports, audits from the company's own consultants and public reports from security experts, 180solutions has remained brazenly reckless in its efforts to get its software on users' computers," the complaint states.
"We urge the commission to consider this an urgent matter and investigate and prosecute it accordingly."
The CDT wants the FTC to enjoin 180solutions and its affiliates from "future use of the deceptive and unfair installment of software" and to order equitable relief including monetary penalties.