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DirectRevenue Slapped (Lightly) By FTC

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Adware distributor DirectRevenue owes the Federal Trade Commission $1.5 million in ill-gotten profits after settling charges they used unfair and deceptive methods to download adware on consumers’ computers, and made it difficult to remove. Critics of the settlement say that’s only a fraction of what the company made.

The settlement prohibits future downloads of DirectRevenue’s adware without consumers’ express consent, and requires the company to provide "a reasonable and effective" way for consumers to locate and remove the adware from their computers.

“DirectRevenue’s adware infected computers worldwide,” said FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. “The FTC settlement brings unauthorized software downloads to a halt and stops DirectRevenue from sending pop-up ads to computers affected by prior unlawful downloads.”

The adware was installed via affiliate and "sub-affiliate" networks, secretly installing programs named The Best Offers, A Better Internet, ABI Network, Ceres, and Aurora that monitored users’ Web browsing to display targeted pop-ups.

These programs piggybacked on free programs offered by DirectRevenue and affiliates, such as screensavers, games, and utilities. In some cases, says the FTC, DirectRevenue affiliates exploited security vulnerabilities in Web browsers to install the adware.

After the adware was installed, DirectRevenue deliberately made it difficult to identify, locate, and remove it, says the FTC, failing to label pop-up ads with their source, storing adware files in remote locales on the hard drive, and cloaking or removing adware presence from the Add/Remove utility.

The uninstall tool provided by DirectRevenue was at various Websites, and required users to follow a ten-step procedure that included installing more software and deactivating third-party firewalls.

The FTC, obviously, thought this to be deceptive and unfair. In addition to the $1.5 million and promise to quit it, the settlement prohibits DirectRevenue from sending ads to computers with adware installed before October of 2005, but permits the company to send those "legacy users" up to three opt-in notices, where they can consent to resume receiving the ads. The notices must also provide simple instructions for installation.

The one dissenting vote to approve the settlement came from Commissioner Jon Leibowitz, who called the $1.5 million penalty a "disappointment."

"“In this consent agreement, Commission staff obtained strong injunctive relief that will put an end to practices that allowed DirectRevenue to foist unwanted software on untold millions of consumers. But the $1.5 million in monetary relief that the Commission obtained as part of the consent agreement is a disappointment because it apparently leaves DirectRevenue’s owners lining their pockets with more than $20 million from a business model based on deceit.”

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