FTC cracks down on alleged spyware site

A U.S. district court has ordered a Web business offering free music files, browser upgrades and ring-tones to halt downloads of alleged spyware and adware, at the request of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which announced the court order on Thursday.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, in Los Angeles, has also frozen the assets of an organization doing business as Enternet Media Inc., Searchmiracle.com, C4tdownload.com and Cash4toolbar.com, according to the FTC. In orders issued last week, the court also halted the downloads of an affiliate site, Iwebtunes.com, that allegedly spread spyware by offering free background music to Web log operators.

An FTC complaint alleges that the Web sites of the defendants and their affiliates cause installation boxes to pop up on users’ computer screens. In some cases, the installation boxes offer a variety of freeware, including music files, mobile phone ring tones, photographs and song lyrics.

In another variation, the pop-up box warned users that their Internet browsers were defective and offered free upgrades or security patches, according to the FTC.

Instead of the free files or patches, users’ computers were infected with spyware, according to the FTC.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that the defendants’ software code could track users’ Internet use, change their home page settings, insert new toolbars into their browsers, insert a large frame displaying advertisements into browsers, and display pop-up ads. The software installed interfered with computer functions and could be difficult to remove, the FTC said.

The FTC is seeking a permanent injunction against the downloads. The agency is also asking court to order the defendants to give up their “ill-gotten gains.” Microsoft Corp., Webroot Software Inc., and Google Inc. assisted the FTC in its investigation, the agency said.

Defendants named in the FTC complaint are Enternet Media Inc., Conspy & Co. Inc., Lida Rohbani, Nima Hakimi and Baback Hakimi, doing business as Networld One, all based in California. The affiliate, also charged in the complaint, is Nicholas C. Albert, doing business as Iwebtunes, based in Ohio.

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