Search Marketing Company 180 Solutions Sues Affiliates Over Botnet Installation of 180solutions Software on Users’ Computers
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Search marketing company 180 Solutions has filed a lawsuit against several of its own affiliates, after it discovered that those affiliates were using botnets to install the 180solutions solution on unsuspecting users’ computers, without their permission.

180 Solutions explains that they “provide search assistant software that delivers consumers to highly targeted websites on behalf of advertisers when they are searching the Internet for products or services.” They do this by having a consumer install the 180solutions software on their computer, which then delivers to consumers “contextually targeted websites based on their current online browsing activity.”


Now, some people would call this spyware. But only if it’s installed on the user’s computer without their knowledge and permission. 180 Solutions claims to have 20 million permission-based installations on consumer computers, which is a whole lot of permission. If true, one can see why, particularly in this market, a company would want to maintain a squeaky clean reputation, so that they cannot be perceived as purveyors of spyware.

Hence the lawsuit, about which 180 Solutions issued this statement: “180solutions, Inc., a leading provider of Internet search marketing solutions, today announced that it has filed suit against seven former distributors alleging they surreptitiously installed its search software without notice or consent. Distributing 180solutions software without displaying proper notification or obtaining user consent is in direct violation of the company’s strict Distributor Code of Conduct and runs afoul of pending federal legislation now before Congress. The complaint, filed in King County Superior Court, names defendants Eric de Vogt of the Netherlands, Jesse Donohue of Australia, Khalil Halel of Lebanon, Imran Patel of the United Kingdom, Zarox Souchi of Canada, Youri Van Den Berg of the Netherlands and Anton Zagar of Slovenia.

According to the complaint, each defendant used botnets to secretly install 180solutions software on the computers of unsuspecting users. Botnets are large networks of computers that take advantage of security holes in the Windows operating system to deliver applications or viruses without the knowledge of the user. A botnet operator often retains control of the computer on which the bot has been covertly installed and can use the computer to distribute spam, viruses or even legitimate software to others. “Our top priority is to ensure that everyone who has downloaded 180solutions software has done so through proper notification and consent prior to installation,” said Daniel Todd, co-founder and president of 180solutions. “We have implemented strong policing efforts to detect distributor wrongdoing, and have a no-tolerance policy through our Distributor Code of Conduct. When we discover a partner in violation of our code, we shut them down and, when necessary, take legal action to avert future bad behavior.”

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Since January 2005, 180solutions has shut down more than 500 of its more than 8,000 distributors due to non-compliance with the company’s Code of Conduct. A key policy is that every distributor clearly explains to the user what is being installed and receives informed consent from that user to install the product. Only after consent is gained is a distributor permitted to proceed with the installation of a 180solutions product. 180solutions seeks monetary damages — amount to be determined at trial — as called for in the licensing and Code of Conduct agreement between the company and its now-former distributors. To encourage strong policing efforts, 180solutions will place all monies awarded as damages in this litigation into a fund to foster pro-consumer practices for downloadable software.

“The key to deterrence is to make it harder for bad people to do bad things and establish consequences for misconduct,” said Ken McGraw, chief compliance officer of 180solutions. “Our approach is a multi-faceted enforcement initiative that includes ongoing litigation, strong policing efforts, technology solutions, collaboration with consumer advocacy groups and continued support of strong federal legislation. Additionally, consumer education will be an integral part of our efforts to put the bad actors out of business and clean up distribution channels.”


In June, 180solutions began re-notifying each of its 20 million active users that its software was on the user’s PC, explaining the software’s purpose and providing simple uninstall instructions. Every new customer receives that same notification within 72 hours of installation and the company has committed to displaying similar messages to every customer at least once every 90 days moving forward.

 

Last month, the company settled a lawsuit against Internext Media Corp., in which the company had alleged that the former distributor had failed to properly enforce the 180solutions Code of Conduct with a former Internext affiliate, Aztec Marketing, S.A. Under the terms of the settlement, Internext paid undisclosed monetary damages to 180solutions without any admission of liability.”

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