Groups Target Another Spyware Operator
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FastMP3Search.com.ar is the latest alleged spyware operator to get caught in the crosshairs of consumer and advocacy groups.
The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and StopBadware.org are expected to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Thursday claiming the site's free plug-in installation contains adware and Trojan horse applications.
In addition, the complaint claims the free download disables the Windows firewall, changes homepage settings, sabotages valid Web addresses for legitimate security companies and impairs the performance of computers.
According to StopBadware.org, the downloads are made without consumer consent and are virtually impossible for the average user to uninstall.
The complaint seeks immediate FTC action against the sites' owners and operators.
"In the past year, we've come across dozens of malicious programs available on hundreds of Web sites, and without question, the FastMP3Search.com.ar Plugin tops our list of the worst actors," John Palfrey, co-director of StopBadware.org and executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, said in a statement.
Palfrey added StopBadware, and CDT decided to target FastMP3Search.com.ar with an FTC complaint because "they've combined so many things in a single bundle. It's a parade of horribles."
Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the CDT, said beside the harm to consumers, "scams" like FastMP3Search.com.ar damage the Internet as a whole.
"Beyond the quantifiable harm they inflict on their victims, these scam artists strike at the heart of the consumer confidence that sustains the Internet as a vibrant tool for communication and commerce," Schwartz said in the joint statement with StopBadware.
The November settlement between controversial adware distributor Zango and the FTC began with a complaint from the CDT.
Zango agreed to return $3 million in "ill-gotten gains" to settle FTC charges of unfair and deceptive practices. The Bellevue, Wash.-based Zango, formerly known as 180solutions, also agreed not to download its adware without consumers' consent and to provide consumers with a way to remove the adware from their computers.
"Every time the FTC goes after one of these scammers, it sends an important message to those who seek to turn a profit by exploiting unsuspecting Internet users," Schwartz said.
StopBadware is also expected to issue a new report Thursday naming the FastMP3Search.com.ar to its "Badware List." The report was prepared by Harvard's Berkman Center and Oxford University's Oxford Internet Institute.
"The FTC complaint and our report are part of an ongoing effort to identify bad code on the Internet, so that Internet users won't have to retreat to digital walled gardens," Jonathan Zittrain, StopBadware.org co-director and professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University, said in a statement.
Zittrain said the owners and operators of the site have "covered their tracks" well, with StopBadware, CDT, Harvard and Oxford unable to correctly identify the persons responsible for the site or even the site's true country of origin.
"By filing a formal complaint with the FTC, we hope to bring additional effort to bear against rogue sites and software," Zittrain said. "We hope the Commission, through its authority to challenge practices affecting commerce that are deceptive and unfair, will investigate the owners and operators of FastMP3Search.com.ar and take appropriate action."
StopBadware.org is led by the Berkman Center and the Oxford Internet Institute. Consumer Reports WebWatch serves as an unpaid special adviser. The initiative is supported by a number of tech companies, including Google, Lenovo and Sun Microsystems.
For instance, Google-directed visitors to the FastMP3Search.com.ar site are met with this message: "Warning Visiting this web site may harm your computer!"