Court Shuts Down Alleged Spyware Operation

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A U.S. district court has shut down a Web operation that is accused of secretly loading spyware and other malevolent software onto millions of computers after promising users free screen savers and video files, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said on Monday.

Judge Howard McKibben of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada issued a temporary restraining order against ERG Ventures and an affiliate on October 31, and an FTC complaint seeks a permanent injunction against the company and affiliate.

Customers Tricked Into Downloading Malware

The FTC accused ERG Ventures and an affiliate with tricking consumers into downloading a piece of spyware called Media Motor, which installs itself and downloads other malware.

The malware was difficult for consumers to remove, the FTC said. The malware installed by Media Motor:

  • Changed consumers' home pages
  • Added difficult-to-remove toolbars that display disruptive pop-up ads in consumers' Internet browsers
  • Tracked Internet activity
  • Generated disruptive pop-up ads that were occasionally sexually explicit
  • Added advertising icons to consumers' Windows desktop
  • Degraded computer performance
  • Disabled antispyware and antivirus software

Deceptive EULA

ERG Ventures and its affiliate Timothy P. Taylor--doing business as Team Taylor Made--have violated the FTC Act, which bars unfair and deceptive practices, the FTC charged. ERG Ventures and Taylor failed to disclose to consumers that the free software they offered was bundled with malware, and they used a deceptive end user license agreement, which gave consumers the option to halt the installation of all software from ERG, but secretly installed the malware anyway, the FTC said.

The FTC will ask the court to order the defendants to give up their illegal gains, the agency said.

The FTC complaint names ERG Ventures, doing business as ERG Ventures LLC2, Media Motor, Joysticksavers.com, and PrivateinPublic.com, and its principal operators, Elliott S. Cameron, Robert A. Davidson II, and Gary E. Hill, as well as Taylor.

The FTC also asked consumers who have had experience with the defendants to contact the agency with any information that may be relevant to the FTC's lawsuit.

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