Washington AG targets in spyware case

Washington state's legal team announced that it is gunning for a movie download service that flooded consumers with spyware ads demanding payment for services they never signed up for.

The state's attorney general filed suit against Monday under the Washington Computer Spyware and Consumer Protection acts. Also named in the suit is the company's holding firm, Digital Enterprises, as well as Alchemy Communications, AccessMedia Networks and Innovative Networks. The suit is the product of a seven-month investigation conducted by the Attorney General's Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit.

The suit claims that these businesses conspired to get consumers to download spyware software in order to take advantage of a three-day trial of the movie download service. If users fail to manually cancel on the site before the trial period is over they are inundated with full-screen pop-ups that appear hourly and command the user to pay for the service.

The pop-ups cannot be minimized and there is no easy way to remove the spyware that initiates them, as the software prevents users from using the Windows Control Panel to uninstall. Instead, the program launches a website that again presents payment options for the service.

"To stop these aggressive pop-ups, many frustrated consumers ultimately give in to the defendants' unfair tactics and pay anywhere from $19.95 to nearly $100 for the service," McKenna said. "Thousands of consumers nationwide have complained to my office, the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and others about the defendants' unfair practices."

The FAQ linked to the pop-up screens go so far as to threaten users with specious claims that their credit will be adversely affected by failing to pay. McKenna said that the threats are empty.

"The defendants' claim that users are legally obligated to pay for their service lacks merit because consumers did not provide knowing consent to the installation of the relentless pop-up demands," he said. "Furthermore, computer owners are not responsible to satisfy contracts that other people, including minors, entered into while using a computer."

If found liable, each defendant could be fined $100,000 per violation of the Computer Spyware Act and $2,000 per violation under the Consumer Protection Act.

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