Bonzi Software, Inc., a California company, and its owners have agreed to settle FTC charges that they falsely claimed that their InternetALERT software significantly reduces the risk of Internet attacks. The FTC alleges that InternetALERT software provides only limited protections for computers and the information stored in them. As part of the settlement, the respondents are prohibited from making false claims about the security or privacy attributes of InternetALERT and other software products.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Bonzi Software and its principals, Joe and Jay Bonzi, market software products, including InternetALERT, a computer security product. The software, which costs $49 for a one-year subscription, was advertised through banner, button, and pop-up ads and on the company’s Web site, www.bonzi.com. These ads, the complaint alleges, stated that without InternetALERT hackers can “Steal your Credit Card & Personal Information; Read Your E-Mail; Plant a Virus or Worm; or Steal Online Banking Information!” and directed consumers to “Download InternetALERT & Protect Yourself Now.” The complaint states that the respondents’ advertising claimed that InternetALERT could provide consumers with the “comfort and security of knowing that no one from the Internet can access [their] computer[s] without [their] knowledge or permission!”
The FTC alleges that the claims for InternetALERT far exceeded the software’s benefits. The FTC charges that the software does not significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access into computers and information stored in them and provides only limited protection for computers against intrusions by hackers, viruses, worms, spyware, and other Internet threats. In addition, according the complaint, the software lacks security features that provide virus protection to computers and prevent personal information stored on them from being sent to unauthorized parties.
The consent order bars the respondents from misrepresenting the extent to which any software can detect and reduce the risk of Internet attacks, or can otherwise enhance security or privacy. As part of the settlement, the respondents also are ordered to notify current InternetALERT subscribers of the FTC’s law enforcement action and allow them to cancel their service and receive a prorated refund. In addition, the respondents are required to send a copy of the order to third parties advertising or selling InternetALERT on their behalf and maintain records to assist the FTC in monitoring their compliance.
The Commission vote to accept the consent agreement for public comment was 5-0. An announcement regarding the consent will be published in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, until October 1, 2004, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, Room H-159, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form near the end of the public comment period be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions.
The FTC’s Office of Consumer and Business Education has issued a new consumer alert, “Detect, Protect, Disinfect: Consumers Online Face Wide Choices in Security Products,” to help consumers understand Internet security and learn about the types of security products being advertised. The alert is available at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt140.shtm.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $11,000.
Copies of the proposed consent agreement, complaint, and analysis to aid in public comment are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(FTC File No. 042-3016)