180solutions Spyware Practice Far From Perfect


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.

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