A nonprofit technology group asked the Federal Trade Commission on Monday to stop a software developer from allowing "deceptive and unfair" methods in distributing products that generate online pop-up ads.
Although the Center for Democracy and Technology acknowledged that the developer, 180solutions Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., has responded to its complaints over the past two years, the group said the company has made only "minor" improvements.
"While they were willing to root out individual cases as we brought them to their attention, we were getting new complaints about new bad installations at an almost equal rate," said David McGuire, a CDT spokesman. "It seems their business model is just flawed."
The company claims its products are used by more than 20 million people, many of whom get them on their computers when they download free games and other software.
Many anti-spyware vendors flag 180solutions products as "adware," complaining that users aren't always made aware of installations though the company asserts that user consent is required. The CDT said 180solutions isn't aggressive enough about policing rogue distribution partners.
One example cited in Monday's complaint involves free Web hosting services offered by CJB Management Inc.
According to the CDT, people who visit a personal Web site hosted for free by CJB are told to expect advertising but don't understand that it involves a program that "runs continuously and tracks everything that the user does online" in order to better target ads.
CJB said in a statement that it would cooperate with any investigation and said the complaint "is probably based on a misunderstanding of the facts." The statement did not elaborate on what it disputes.
In a statement, 180solutions said it shares CDT's "vision of protecting the rights and privacy of consumers on the Internet" and looks forward to continuing a dialogue that already has led to "voluntarily improvements to address every reasonable concern that the CDT has made us aware of."
The company said it had yet to review the CDT's complaint, and spokesman Sean Sundwall declined further comment.
In recent months, 180solutions has announced changes that it says will help reduce unauthorized attempts by its distribution partners to install the company's products. The company also has dropped some distributors and filed lawsuits against some.
But the CDT told the FTC that 180solutions has "remained brazenly reckless in its efforts to get its software on users' computers." The CDT, a Washington, D.C.-based civil-liberties group that has increasingly focused its attention on spyware and adware, seeks injunctions and penalties through the FTC.
FTC spokeswoman Claudia Bourne Farrell the agency will review the complaint.