On February 28, Nicholas C. Albert, an affiliate Webmaster who used the allure of “free” music downloads to spread malicious computer code, is settling FTC charges he violated federal law. The defendant, who was paid to distribute the code by the company that developed it, will give up all of his ill-gotten gains and is permanently bared him from interfering with consumers’ computer use, including distributing software code that tracks consumers’ Internet activity or collects other personal information, changes their preferred homepage or other browser settings, inserts new toolbars onto their browsers, installs dialer programs, inserts advertising hyperlinks into third-party Web pages, or installs other advertising software. He is also prohibited from making false or misleading representations; prohibited from distributing advertising software and spyware; and is required to perform substantial due diligence and monitoring if he is to participate in any affiliate program. Albert will also give up his ill-gotten gains – $3,300.
According to the FTC complaint, Albert was deceptive when he bundled Enternet Media’s malware with “free” music made available to bloggers and others at his Web sites: iwebtunes.com and iwebmusic.com. Bloggers who selected a music file from Albert’s site also received a bundled piece of java script code that caused their blogs to display Enternet Media’s deceptive software installation boxes. Then, whenever a consumer landed on a blog that had downloaded files from Albert, the consumer would not only hear music, but would also see the pop-up.
Enernet Media’s code would automatically install when the consumers downloaded the offer for free browser upgrades. The FTC alleged that the code interfered with the functioning of the computer, and was difficult for consumers to uninstall or remove. In addition, the code tracked consumers’ Internet activity, changed their home page settings, inserted new toolbars onto their browsers, inserted a large side “frame” or “window” onto browser windows that in turn displayed ads, and displayed pop-up ads, even when consumers’ Internet browsers were not activated.
The FTC vote to authorize staff to file the stipulated final order was 5-0.