On November 13, a U.S. District Court 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 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 activated itself and downloaded “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 were extremely difficult or impossible for consumers to remove from their computers.
The FTC charged that ERG Ventures and its affiliate Timothy P. Taylor 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.