Class Action Suits Arent the Best Way to Challenge Spyware

Opinion: When the fight against spyware moves to the wrong venue, it's lawyers who profit.

Its America, so it was inevitable. Adware and spyware vendors have ended up in court, and the plaintiffs are seeking class certification.

It started several months ago with a suit against DirectRevenue. Now another suit has been filed against 180Solutions (details here in PDF form) for similar reasons.

180Solutions, aka MetricsDirect, has a long and notorious history in the adware business and will make an unsympathetic defendant.

The whole thing makes me uncomfortable because class action cases so often seem to work only to the benefit of the attorneys.

Youve seen it before and its not hard to imagine in this case: The settlement nets 180Solutions victims $17 coupons for some service they dont want and the attorneys get $74 million.

Beyond the basic injustice of it all, it creates incentives for the attorneys, since theyre basically dealing with phony clients, to service their own interests primarily.

At least the suit is being filed in a U.S. District Court as opposed to some out-of-the-way state court.

But all of this has more to do with the class action system than with the spyware problem and with the merits of this case.

Im going to assume, for the sake of argument, that the factual claims of the phony plaintiff are largely accurate, in the sense that spyware was actually surreptitiously installed on his computer and that it impeded his ability to enjoy the use of said computer.

Some of those factual claims are compelling, bearing in mind that we havent yet heard the other side of the story.

The complaint insists that 180Solutions software is installed surreptitiously, without consent. 180Solutions, for its part, insists that all of its software is "permission-based." Graphics proclaiming "No Spyware," "No Hiding," "Privacy Pledge" and similar stuff adorn its Web site.

At the same time, the company says it has sued a bunch of former affiliates abroad for installing its software using botnets and without getting complete user approval.

How did botnets figure into this? I can only assume that the affiliates (all in distant lands like Lebanon and Canada) actually installed the 180Solutions software onto the botnet computers themselves.

Seems to me that this suit concedes the point that 180Solutions software can be installed by an affiliate without user permission.

Next page: What 180Solutions actually does.