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Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Zango to pay $3 million FTC fine in adware case

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Zango, the Bellevue online media and advertising company accused of unfairly and deceptively downloading software onto consumer computers, has agreed to pay a $3 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission.

In the settlement, Zango agreed to clearly notify consumers and seek their consent before installing its software, which critics call "adware," onto Web surfers' computers. The company said it would also make it easier for consumers to remove the software.

Computer-privacy advocates hailed the settlement as a landmark agreement that defines what a company must do to obtain consent before installing software on a user's computer.

"This sends an important message to companies that have built their businesses on the backs of Internet users without any concern for what those users want," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

The FTC charged that from 2002 to 2005 Zango distributed its adware through a large network of affiliate companies that promised free content, such as games, screensavers and Web browser upgrades.

Zango's advertising software was then bundled with the free content and unknowingly downloaded by the user. The program would monitor the user's Internet surfing and offer pop-up ads based on sites the user visited, the FTC said.

Zango's third-party distributors also exploited gaps in online security to install the software without consumers' knowledge and made the program difficult to remove by disguising it, the FTC said.

In all, Zango's program was installed on computers more than 70 million times and caused more than 6.9 billion pop-up ads to appear, the FTC said in its complaint .

Zango, formerly known as 180solutions, blamed many of the deceptive practices cited by the FTC on its affiliates. Zango paid the affiliates to include its software with their free downloads, but said that it stopped working with the affiliates in October 2005.

Zango Chief Executive Keith Smith said that in previous years "deceptive third parties" did not properly enforce "our consumer notice and consent policies."

"We deeply regret and apologize for the resulting negative impact," he said.

Zango said it has abided by the FTC's new notice-and-consent standards since Jan. 1, when it began using new software that can detect the unauthorized installation of its desktop ad software on a consumer's computer.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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