What 180Solutions Actually Does

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-09-26 Print this article Print

And few, if any, users would consent to the installation of this software if they knew what it was doing. According to the complaint filed with the court (available here as a PDF), "180Solutions boasts in its marketing literature that it is able to provide advertisers with a 360-degree view of the users behavior—24 hours a day, 7 days a week."
In other words, it reports on users browsing habits. It also bombards them with ads based on the sites the users are visiting.
The software resists being removed from the system and warns you that unspecified other things will go wrong if you attempt to do so. As has been demonstrated by researcher Ben Edelman, 180Solutions software does not always behave in the innocent manner the company claims for it. And Web sites that are responsible for installing the 180Solutions software (180search Assistant, formerly nCase) are paid by 180Solutions for each system on which it is installed (or, to use the term in the complaint, each system that is "infected"). So its affiliates have every incentive to hide what they are doing. These disingenuous "marketing" companies really need to be stopped, and neither the regulatory agencies nor the legislative bodies seem to be taking any great action, and perhaps they dont need to. Fraud, as the complaint notes, is already illegal, so a civil suit is a reasonable course to take. As obvious as the facts may seem here, I really dont like the idea of leaving this in the hands of a jury. In fact, the 7th amendment notwithstanding, Im tempted to agree with a friend who thinks we shouldnt necessarily have juries in civil cases anymore. Thats the way the ball bounces in our court system. But need it be a class action suit? This is the part I really dont like; how are people supposed to demonstrate that they are a member of the class? And if its actually true, as 180Solutions claims, that they collect no personally identifiable information, how are they supposed to dispute any particular individuals claims? You really want to leave distinctions like this to a jury? And how do you measure damages in such cases? The complaint asserts that damages to the named were "well in excess of $5,000." It describes how the damage from the software comes from slowing the computer down, wasting the users time, forcing him or her to view advertisements and impeding the ability to use the computer effectively. How do you turn that into a dollar figure? I have no doubt the only meaningful number at the end of it all will be the "award of reasonable attorneys fees, costs and expenses." I guess Ill have to sit uncomfortably and say that Ill put my faith in the judicial arm of the Federal government to make sure this case is handled in an up-and-up manner. It bothers me to worry about 180Solutions rights in court, but someone does need to worry about them. Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at larryseltzer@ziffdavis.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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