A U.S. district court has shut down an operation that secretly downloaded multiple malevolent software programs, including spyware, onto millions of computers without consumers’ consent, degrading their computers’ performance, spying on them, and exposing them to a barrage of disruptive advertisements. The Federal Trade Commission has asked the court to order a permanent halt to these deceptive and unfair downloads, and to order the outfit to give up its ill-gotten gains.
The FTC charged ERG Ventures, LLC and one of its affiliates with tricking consumers into downloading malevolent software by hiding the Media Motor program within seemingly innocuous free software, including screensavers and video files. Once downloaded, the Media Motor program silently activates itself and downloads “malware” – software that is intrusive, disruptive, and makes it difficult for consumers to use their computers. Among other effects, the malware installed by the Media Motor program:
- changes consumers’ home pages;
- adds difficult-to-remove toolbars that display disruptive pop-up ads to consumers’ Internet browsers;
- tracks consumers’ Internet activity;
- generates disruptive and occasionally sexually explicit pop-up ads;
- adds advertising icons to consumers’ Windows desktop;
- alters browser settings;
- degrades computer performance; and
- attacks and disables consumers’ anti-spyware and anti-virus software.
Many of the malware programs installed by the Media Motor program are extremely difficult or impossible for consumers to remove from their computers.
The FTC charged that ERG Ventures and its affiliate Timothy P. Taylor have violated the FTC Act, which bars unfair and deceptive practices. Specifically, the FTC alleged that ERG Ventures and Taylor failed to disclose to consumers that the free software they offered the public was bundled with malware. The agency also charged ERG Ventures and Taylor with using a deceptive End User License Agreement, which gave consumers the option to halt the installation of all software from ERG Ventures, but secretly installed malware whether consumers accepted or rejected the terms of the EULA. The agency also charged ERG Ventures with unfairly downloading software that causes substantial harm to consumers. The FTC will seek a permanent halt to the illegal practices and will ask the court to order the defendants to give up their illegal gains.
The FTC complaint names ERG Ventures, LLC, doing business as ERG Ventures LLC2, Media Motor, Joysticksavers.com, and PrivateinPublic.com and its principals, Elliott S. Cameron, Robert A. Davidson, II, and Gary E. Hill, as well as Timothy P. Taylor d/b/a Team Taylor Made. The Commission vote to file the complaint was 5-0.
The FTC has set up two ways for consumers who have had experience with these defendants to contact the FTC with any information that may be relevant to the FTC’s action. Consumers can send e-mail to email@example.com or call 202-326-3504 to leave messages.
The FTC’s case was brought with assistance from the Microsoft Corporation.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. is engaged in a parallel criminal investigation of the defendants in which search warrants were executed. These investigations demonstrate the joint commitment of the FTC and the Department of Justice to combat spyware.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the complaint 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 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.
(FTC File No. 0623192)
- Media Contact:
- Claudia Bourne Farrell,
Office of Public Affairs
- Staff Contact:
- Tara M. Flynn,
Bureau of Consumer Protection