An operation that placed spyware on consumers’ computers in violation of federal laws will give up more than $2 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges.
Under a stipulated final judgment and order, the defendants are permanently prohibited from interfering with a consumer’s computer use, including but not limited to distributing software code that tracks consumers’ Internet activity or collects other personal information, changes their preferred homepage or other browser settings, inserts new advertising toolbars or other frames onto their browsers, installs dialer programs, inserts advertising hyperlinks into third-party Web pages, or installs other advertising software code, file, or content on consumers’ computers.
The defendants also are permanently prohibited from making misleading representations regarding the performance, benefits, features, cost, or nature or effect of any type of software code, file, or content, including misrepresenting that the code is an Internet browser upgrade or other computer security software, music, song, lyric, or cell phone ring tone.
The order names Enternet Media Inc., Conspy & Co. Inc., Lida Rohbani, Nima Hakimi, and Baback (Babak) Hakimi, all based in California, whose software codes were “Search Miracle,” “Miracle Search,” “EM Toolbar,” “EliteBar,” and “Elite Toolbar.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, the Web sites of the defendants and their affiliates caused “installation boxes” to pop up on consumers’ computer screens. In one variation of the scheme, the boxes offered a variety of “freeware,” including music files, cell phone ring tones, photographs, wallpaper, and song lyrics. In another, the boxes warned that consumers’ Internet browsers were defective, and offered free browser upgrades or security patches. Consumers who downloaded the supposed freeware or security upgrades did not receive what they were promised; instead, their computers were infected with spyware that interferes with the functioning of the computer and is difficult for consumers to uninstall or remove.
The agency’s complaint also alleges that the defendants’ software code tracks consumers’ Internet activity, changes their home page settings, inserts new toolbars onto their browsers, inserts a large side “frame”or “window” onto browser windows that in turn displays ads, and displays pop-up ads, even when consumers’ Internet browsers are not activated.
At the FTC’s request, a federal judge froze the operation’s assets last fall and ordered it shut down. The settlement requires the defendants to give up $2.045 million of their ill-gotten gains and includes a suspended judgment of $8.5 million for alleged violations of the FTC Act. The Commission vote to approve the settlement was 5-0.
The FTC’s case was brought with the assistance of the Microsoft Corporation, Webroot Software, Inc., and Google Incorporated.
NOTE: This stipulated final order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. A stipulated final order requires approval by the court and has the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the stipulated final order for permanent injunction are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and 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/ftc/complaint.htm. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Claudia Bourne Farrell
Office of Public Affairs
Office of Public Affairs
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Colleen Robbins, Attorney
(FTC File No. X06-0003)