The FTC accused ERG Ventures LLC, a Nevada based company, of using “free” screensavers and other seemingly-harmless “freebies” to infect users computers. A federal court agreed with the accusations and has shut them down as well as put a freeze on their assets.
Microsoft assisted the FTC during the investigation and has since filed its own lawsuit against a Tennessee man Timothy P. Taylor. Microsoft’s suit claims that he distributed the @#$%&@#$@ Media Motor package of spyware as a hidden part of the “free screensavers” (of course, that is not a direct quote from the filed papers ;)).
The FTC’s complaint stated, in part, that the Nevada based company:
surreptitiously distributed and installed exploitive software programs onto consumers’ computers through a sophisticated and expansive network of affiliates.
Yikes! Additionally, it was responsible for changing browser home pages, adding various toolbars and attempting to modify the user’s anti-virus and anti-spyware defenses.
Also, the company allegedly also used some sneaky wording in the End User License Agreements. You know…those 4 pages of lawyer jargon that you never completely read but have to “accept” if you want to continue with the installation.
A Reno, Nevada U.S. District Court has signed a temporary restraining order against ERG Ventures and also froze the company’s assets. Meanwhile, the FTC has asked the court to make the order permanent and force the company to part with its rather hefty profits. According to the FTC, the company made over $1 million in profits from April 2004 to April 2005. Wow!
“These defendants were packaging a broad array of unwanted and intrusive programs with seemingly innocent programs,” said Scott Stein, a Microsoft senior attorney, in a statement Tuesday. “They didn’t tell users about the numerous hidden programs that would be installed with the screen savers, and provided only an illusory option to stop installation. We have a responsibility to help protect our customers and to do whatever we can to prevent this kind of practice.”