Internet Exec Held Accountable For Adware, Spyware

Attorney General Spitzer today announced an agreement with the former CEO of a leading internet marketing company responsible for secretly installing adware and spyware on millions of home computers.

Under the agreement, Brad Greenspan, the founder and former CEO of Intermix Media, will pay $750,000 in penalties and disgorgement in connection with an investigation of the conduct of his former company.

"Internet marketing companies have gotten away with unethical and illegal software downloading practices for too long," Spitzer said. "This agreement sends a message that intrusive and deceptive practices will not be tolerated."

In April, Spitzer sued the Los Angeles-based Intermix alleging that it was responsible for downloading intrusive software tens of millions of times to computers nationwide, and more than three million times to New Yorkers.

The agreement between Spitzer’s office and Greenspan, an Assurance of Discontinuance, contains a factual recitation alleging that Greenspan directed Intermix’s employees to bundle adware programs with other free software programs to avoid informing consumers of their existence by disclosing Intermix’s adware programs only in a linked, inconspicuous, "End User License Agreement."

The assurance also describes how Greenspan directed subordinates to bundle the adware programs to make them difficult to uninstall. In practice, the company’s adware programs often did not fully uninstall, or reinstalled themselves after having been removed. Likewise, Intermix’s programs often were designed to be listed only in inconspicuous computer files, thus further avoiding detection by consumers.

Spitzer also announced today that New York Supreme Court Judge Judith Gische had approved a consent agreement between Intermix and Spitzer’s office requiring Intermix to pay $7.5 million in penalties and disgorgement, and accept a ban on the distribution of adware programs in the future. That agreement followed the lawsuit filed in April of 2005.

Intermix affiliate Acez Software has also resolved an investigation by the Attorney General’s office of its bundling of Intermix adware with free Acez screensavers without providing notice to consumers. Acez agreed to pay $35,000 in penalties and disgorgement and to adhere to fair notice and disclosure standards.

For some time, the United States Senate and House of Representatives have been considering various laws that would apply particular disclosure requirements to "adware" and "spyware" purveyors. However, Spitzer’s office alleged wrongdoing in the above cases under traditional state "deceptive practices" and "false advertising" laws, contained in the New York General Business Law.

The adware investigations were handled by Assistant Attorney General Justin Brookman of Spitzer’s Internet Bureau, under the direction of Internet Bureau Chief Kenneth M. Dreifach, with assistance from Investigator Vanessa Ip.

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