Microsoft lends hand to state spyware battle

Microsoft today vowed to support Washington state's battle against malware after state Attorney General Rob McKenna filed the first legal action under the Washington Computer Spyware Act, enacted last year. The software giant also filed its own parallel lawsuit alleging violation of the same law.

McKenna's 16-count lawsuit alleges that Secure Computer LLC in New York state used deceptive spam, misleading advertising and computer scan results to frighten users into purchasing its Spyware Cleaner product.

Microsoft's parallel lawsuit includes a claim based on a provision of the Washington Computer Spyware Act that allows providers of computer software and owners of websites or trademarks adversely affected by spyware activities to bring legal action to prohibit further violations.

Microsoft's lawsuit alleges that Secure Computer LLC used deceptive pop-up ads to warn users that their computers were at risk and could contain spyware. The ads allegedly directed users to the company's website. According to the lawsuit, when users visited the site and consented to have their computer's hard disk scanned, the results labeled innocuous files - such as harmless tracking cookies and Microsoft Windows registry keys - as spyware infections and categorized them as having either high risk or extreme risk.

The site advised users to purchase Secure Computer's Spyware Cleaner to remove the files. In addition, Microsoft's lawsuit alleges that advertisements for Spyware Cleaner used Microsoft's trademarks to falsely suggest that Microsoft sponsored or approved of the product. Microsoft has collaborated with governments, law enforcement and industry partners to support civil and criminal enforcement activities against those who engage in online fraud, spam, spyware and other illegal activity on the internet. The company has provided technical expertise and investigative assistance to attorneys general in California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Washington.

"We applaud McKenna for his strong and sustained leadership in helping protect consumers on the internet," said Nancy Anderson, deputy general counsel for Microsoft. "McKenna led the effort in Washington to pass one of the nation's first anti-spyware laws. Now he is using that law to help protect consumers."

The Washington Computer Spyware Act prohibits the installation of computer software that prevents the reasonable efforts of the owner or operator to block the installation, and prohibits intentional misrepresentation of the extent to which such software is required for security or privacy. Software that collects and transmits information or changes settings on a computer without the owner's permission is also outlawed.

"Computer users should be able to trust that they will not be misled by dishonest activity in the online marketplace," Anderson said. "Attorney General McKenna's use of Washington's anti-spyware law sends a strong message to online businesses that the state will do everything it can to prevent its citizens from becoming victims of deceit."

She added that Microsoft continues to collaborate with many state attorneys general to help protect computer users from the effects of spyware, spam and cybercrime.

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