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“180solutions and its affiliates have caused immeasurable harm, not just to individual Internet users, but to the Internet itself.” — Ari Schwartz, deputy director, CDT

This is big news, people: The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has filed two complaints with the FTC against 180solutions.

According to their press release:

The Center for Democracy &Technology (CDT) today asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to put an end to the illegal and deceptive practices of 180solutions Inc., one of the world’s largest developers of Internet advertising software. In a detailed complaint, CDT outlines a pattern whereby 180Solutions, through a complicated web of affiliate relationships, deliberately and repeatedly attempted to dupe Internet users into downloading intrusive advertising software. The complaint illustrates how 180solutions continued this pattern of practice even after being warned by technology experts, privacy advocates and its own auditors that its practices were unethical, and in several cases, illegal.

The first is a general complaint, backed up by extensive research and investigation, which alleges:

After substantial investigation, it is clear to CDT that, 180solutions’ core business model depends on third-party affiliates committing unfair and deceptive practices on the company’s behalf. Therefore, CDT urges the Commission to bring a complaint against 180solutions, not on the grounds of an individual case, but rather in response to a pattern of practice that continues to encourage violations of the Title 5 of the FTC Act.

That’s the first complaint.

The second complaint is against 180Solutions and CJB.Net.  You may remember my blog post back in November about a 2nd grade class site hosted on CJB, where 180solutions software was offered on the site.  CJB has been naughty — you set up a free website on CJB, and then they would offer 180solutions adware to people who go to your free site (I tried this last night, though, and it appears they may have stopped this practice).

So, this second complaint alleges:

…CDT discovered through its investigations that 180solutions is engaging in a number of deceptive and unfair practices to distribute its software through its affiliate, CJB.NET.

…Users who sign up for free Web sites hosted by CJB.NET are not told in a clear and conspicuous manner that visitors to their site will be prompted to download software. This constitutes an unfair practice. CJB.NET also uses a deceptive security warning (ActiveX) prompt to dupe people into installing 180solutions’ software, instead of offering users the opportunity to give informed consent. Following the ActiveX prompt, the automatically triggered Web browser windows (pop-ups) soliciting user consent suggest that the site is “supported by advertising.” While most consumers understand a site “supported by advertising” to mean a Web site that contains banner ads delivered by the page, the “advertising” on a CJB.NET Web site actually involves a program that runs continuously and tracks everything that the user does online. As we document in this  complaint, the discrepancy between what users expect a Web site that is “supported by advertising” to do and what CJB.NET-hosted sites actually do are the root cause of several types of unfair and deceptive trade practices. CDT urges the Commission to bring a complaint against 180solutions and CJB.NET for unfair and deceptive practices in the installation of advertising software, in violation of section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act).

In the complaints, the CDT referenced research from a number of antispyware superstars, including Chris Boyd, Ben Edelman, Suzi Turner and Sunbelt’s own director of malware research, Eric Howes.

These complaints make for good reading.  180Solutions complaint here (15MB).  180Solutions complaint/CJB.Net complaint here

In my response to a request for a comment on this blog posting, Sean Sundwall (180solutions PR guy) emailed me this morning with the following:

We have not yet reviewed the letter filed with the FTC by the CDT, but 180solutions and the CDT share the same vision of protecting the rights and privacy of consumers on the Internet. This shared vision has resulted in a healthy working relationship that has seen great progress in the fight against spyware and benefited consumers around the world. We have made voluntarily improvements to address every reasonable concern that the CDT has made us aware of. We hope to continue the productive dialog with the CDT for years to come.

 Alex Eckelberry

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