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New York Launches Spyware Suit

graphic showing e-mail message superimposed over image of human eye, for story on e-mail privacy
AP / CBS
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer on Thursday sued a major Internet marketer, claiming the company installed "spyware" and "adware" that secretly install nuisance pop-up advertising on screens which can slow and crash personal computers.

Spitzer said the suit filed in New York City against Intermix Media Inc. of Los Angeles combats the redirecting of home computer users to unwanted Web sites and its own Web site that includes ads, the adding of unnecessary toolbar items and the delivery of unwanted ads that pop up on computer screens. After a six-month investigation Spitzer concluded the company installed a wide range of advertising software on countless personal computers nationwide.

"Spyware and adware are more than an annoyance," Spitzer said. "These fraudulent programs foul machines, undermine productivity and in many cases frustrate consumers' efforts to remove them from their computers. These issues can serve to be a hindrance to the growth of e-commerce."

An Intermix spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Spitzer's civil suit accuses Intermix of violating state General Business Law provisions against false advertising and deceptive business practices. He also accuses them of trespass under New York common law.

The company is accused of downloading ads and software that directs ads to a computer based on the user's activities. Spitzer's investigators said the downloads then attach to computers, often slowing their operation and crashing the computers as well as interfering with use of the computer through pop-up ads. Often the downloads were made without notice when a user visited a Web site, played a game or accepted a screen saver. Sometimes the user was asked permission in an often vague reference in a lengthy licensing agreement which could be misleading or inaccurate, investigators said.

Spitzer, after taking on Wall Street and the insurance industry, is taking a harder look at Internet companies he feels are stunting the growth of Internet commerce, or e-commerce.