Just months after declaring it has wiped its hands clean of its nefarious adware practices, Direct Revenue is now facing the wrath for past misdeeds thanks to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Just like his previous actions against similar firms like Intermix, Spitzer is alleging that DR surreptitiously installed millions of pop-up ad programs on consumers’ computers.
The suit against Direct Revenue seeks a court order enjoining the firm from secretly installing spyware or sending ads through already-installed spyware. The suit also asks the court to require the company to provide an accounting of its revenues and asks the court to impose appropriate monetary penalties.
“Surreptitiously installed spyware and adware harm consumers and businesses, and my office will continue to prosecute these practices aggressively,” said Spitzer in a press statement. He continues, “These applications are deceptive and unfair to consumers, bad for businesses that rely on efficient networks to do their jobs, and bad for online retailers that need consumers to trust and enjoy their online experience. We will continue to side with consumers in their fight for control of their desktops.”
According to a release from Spitzer’s camp, the suit follows an extensive investigation in which the Attorney General’s office documented Direct Revenue’s practice of installing advertising software on computers without proper notice. In many cases, these spyware installations were instigated when Direct Revenue (or one of its distributors) advertised “free” applications (such as games or browser “enhancement” software), omitting reference to the spyware that would accompany any downloaded application. Once consumers downloaded these “free” applications, however, surreptitious code placed on their computers caused Direct Revenue’s own servers to install its spyware, without notice to consumers.
The Attorney General’s office also recorded several instances in which Direct Revenue’s spyware was installed through silent “drive-by-downloads,” i.e. downloads that took place without any notice at all to consumers. According to today’s report, the office documented 21 separate websites through which this practice, known as “bundling,” occurred. Among the names of the programs that Direct Revenue has downloaded through this method are “VX2,” “Aurora,” and “OfferOptimizer,” each of which tracks consumers’ web behavior and then delivers sequential pop-up ads to them.
Spitzer’s office’s investigation revealed that Direct Revenue and its officers deliberately designed spyware that, once downloaded, was extremely difficult for users to detect and remove. In many cases, the spyware reinstalled itself after removal by users.
An even more notable transgression occurred in April 2005, when then-Direct Revenue CEO Josh Abram (a defendant in the lawsuit) boasted in an email to a distributor, “We have a very stealthy version of our adware product which we’re happy to give u… Don’t worry. If we do a deal — a build together — these will not be caught.”
“It parallels what you saw when CDT took action against 180solutions,” Bill Day, CEO of WhenU, tells ADOTAS. “The difference here is with all the color in the email. You’re talking about a company– according to the Attorney General’s report — that was founded on a business model of fraud and deception. The color of the emails at least suggest that people reveled in the fact that they were a nuisance. Here, they were openly deceptive and that’s what surprises me the most.”
The lawsuit further alleges that Direct Revenue and certain number of its executives knowingly frustrated consumers’ attempts to remove the downloaded software by requiring consumers intent on accomplishing removal to go to a separate web site (mypctuneup.com), turn off their firewalls and download additional “uninstall” software.
The suit specifically names, and seeks relief and penalties from, the company’s founders and chief officers Joshua Abram, Alan Murray, Daniel Kaufman, and Rodney Hook.