CDT Files Complaints Against Major Adware Distributor

From the fine folks at the Center For Democracy and Technology:

Policy Post 12.2, January 27, 2006

A Briefing On Public Policy Issues Affecting Civil Liberties Online
from The Center For Democracy and Technology

(1) CDT Files Complaints Against Major Adware Distributor
(2) Other Anti-Spyware Efforts Move Forward
(3) Anti-Spyware Coalition to Hold First-Ever Public Meeting

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(1) CDT Files Complaints Against Major Adware Distributor

CDT has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to put an end to the
illegal and deceptive practices of 180solutions Inc., one of the
world’s largest developers of Internet advertising software. Earlier
this month, CDT filed a pair of detailed complaints: one cataloging
180solutions unethical practices over the past several years, and
another targeting 180solutions relationship with CJB.NET, one of its
affiliates.

In the first complaint CDT outlines a pattern whereby 180Solutions,
through its web of affiliate relationships, deliberately and repeatedly
attempted to dupe Internet users into downloading intrusive advertising
software. The complaint illustrates how 180solutions continued this
pattern of practice even after being warned by technology experts,
privacy advocates and its own auditors that its practices were
unethical, and in several cases, illegal.

CDT believes that those practices have caused harm to millions of
Internet users and have damaged the trust that many ordinary citizens
have in the Internet. Although CDT had initially hoped to resolve those
concerns by engaging in dialogue with the company, 180solutions has
done little to address the flawed business practices that have
triggered a string of abuses. In its complaints, CDT called on the FTC
to use all the tools at its disposal to halt the bad practices and seek
financial redress for consumers harmed by 180solutions and its
affiliates.

Based in Bellevue, Wash., 180solutions sells advertising and
distributes advertising software on its own Web sites and through a
far-flung network of affiliates. Once installed, the software tracks
users’ online movements and displays advertisements based on the sites
they visit.

CDT has been investigating 180solutions and its affiliates for more
than two years. During that time, CDT alerted the company about several
of its affiliates that were deceptively installing 180solutions
software. 180solutions was initially cooperative, halting certain
practices, and even going so far as to file lawsuits against some
affiliates. However, throughout that period, CDT received a nearly
continuous stream of new complaints about 180solutions and its
affiliates.

After more than two years of investigation and discussion, CDT
concluded that 180solutions’ underlying business model is fundamentally
flawed, and that until it is changed, consumers will continue to become
unwitting victims of its deceptive software installations.

In addition to the broad “pattern of practice” complaint, CDT also
joined with the Technology Law & Public Policy Clinic at the University
of Washington School of Law to file a separate complaint targeting
180solutions’ ongoing relationship with a specific affiliate, CJB.NET.

– 180solutions pattern of practice complaint:
http://www.cdt.org/privacy/20060123180complaint.pdf (15-MB PDF)

– CJB.NET Complaint: http://www.cdt.org/privacy/20060123cjb.pdf [pdf]

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(2) Other Anti-Spyware Efforts Move Forward

Elsewhere in the anti-spyware arena, the Anti-Spyware Coalition (ASC),
earlier this month released its finalized “risk-modeling” document,
which describes the objective criteria that anti-spyware companies use
to determine whether programs should be flagged as “spyware.”

The document, which goes into considerable technical detail about the
specific behaviors that make certain technologies risky, will help
users better understand the functioning of the products that protect
their computers, as well as offering anti-spyware companies guidelines
for their own proprietary rating processes.

CDT coordinates the efforts of the coalition, members of which include
academics, public interest groups and many of the world’s foremost
anti-spyware companies. The ASC was formed with the aim of improving
the technological response to spyware. It draws on the combined
expertise of its members to help consumers better defend their
computers against unwanted technologies; improve communication about
what constitutes spyware and how anti-spyware companies combat it; and
offer proposals for strengthening anti-spyware technology globally.

Before issuing the risk-modeling document, the ASC in 2005 published a
consensus definition of spyware, drawing on the expertise of its own
extensive membership and input from the public. That language gave
stakeholders in the anti-spyware arena a common language to address the
problem and established the foundation for future coalition efforts.

Just as the spyware definition laid the groundwork for the
risk-modeling document, the risk-modeling document sets the stage for
the eventual development of industry-wide “best practices.”

January also marked the launch of a new anti-spyware organization,
StopBadware.org. Created by Harvard University’s Berkman Center and the
Oxford Internet Institute, StopBadware.org will “spotlight the
companies that make millions of dollars by tricking Internet users to
download malicious spyware, adware and malware programs they don’t
want.”

StopBadware.org compliments the growing phalanx of groups joined in the
effort to stamp out unwanted software. Google, Lenovo, and Sun
Microsystems are sponsoring the project and Consumer Reports WebWatch
is serving as an unpaid special advisor.

In a related development TRUSTe, the online privacy certification
organization, announced that it would launch a “Trusted Download
Program” to provide advertisers and others with information on
certified downloadable advertising and tracking applications. The
program sponsors include AOL, CNet download.com, Computer Associates,
Verizon, Yahoo!

– ASC Risk modeling description:
http://www.antispywarecoalition.org/documents/RiskModelDescription.htm

– ASC Spyware Definitions:
http://www.antispywarecoalition.org/documents/definitions.htm

– StopBadware.org: http://www.stopbadware.org

– TRUSTe Trusted Download Program:
http://www.truste.org/trusteddownload.php

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(3) Anti-Spyware Coalition to Hold First-Ever Public Meeting

The ASC also this month finalized the agenda its first-ever public
workshop.

An assemblage of leading spyware experts from the public and private
sector are set to convene in Washington February 9 for the meeting:
“Defining the Problem, Creating Solutions.” Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras will keynote the packed one-day
event, which includes federal regulators, top state technology and law
enforcement officials as well as representatives from public interest
groups and the nation’s largest Internet companies.

Since its inception last year, the ASC has relied heavily on public
input to refine and improve its work. Both of the major documents the
coalition has released thus far were thrown open for public comment
before being finalized. In both cases, concerned stakeholders helped
the ASC to make important refinements.

The workshop will not only allow anti-spyware experts to discuss the
latest developments in the ongoing fight, it will also provide
coalition members a valuable opportunity to hear directly from the
public about their principal concerns surrounding spyware.

The one-day event will feature panels focused on anti-spyware
technology, cross-border issues, industry self-regulation and possible
legislative responses, and other topics.

In addition to Majoras, Federal Trade Commissioner Jonathan Leibowitz
and Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Mossberg will offer keynotes.

The ASC will hold a second public meeting in Ottawa on May 16.

– Final Workshop Agenda:
http://www.antispywarecoalition.org/events/feb2006agenda.htm

– Online Registration Form:
http://www.acteva.com/booking.cfm?bevaid=97961

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Policy Post 12.2 Copyright 2006 Center for Democracy and Technology