The Federal Trade Commission has issued a Consumer Alert, “File-Sharing: A Fair Share? Maybe Not,” that warns consumers about a number of risks associated with file-sharing. Computer users who share files online have access to a wealth of information including music, games, and software. Users simply download special software that connects the computer to an informal network of other computers running the same software. Millions of users could be connected to each other through this software at one time. The software often is free and easily accessible. The alert, available at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt128.shtm, points out that:
- when consumers are connected to file-sharing programs, they may unknowingly allow others to copy private files they never intended to share;
- consumers may download material that is protected by the copyright laws and find themselves mired in legal issues;
- consumers may download a virus or facilitate a security breach; or
- consumers may unwittingly download pornography labeled as something else.
The alert lists suggestions to assist consumers to secure the personal information stored on their computers when using file-sharing software:
- Set up the file-sharing software very carefully, checking all the proper settings so only intended files are shared.
- Be aware of spyware, software that monitors browsing habits and sends the data to third parties.
- Make sure to close the connection after using the software.
- Use and update anti-virus software regularly to protect computers from viruses consumers might pick up from other users.
- Talk with family members about file-sharing and the security risks associated with it. Children may unintentionally download pornography or other material parents may think is inappropriate for them.
To order copies of this or other FTC Consumer Alerts, visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/online/pubs/bulkordr.htm. 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, or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available for hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.