Eliot Spitzer, New York's Attorney General, filed a civil suit against IntermixMedia Inc. Thursday, accusing the Internet marketing firm of delivering unwanted ads and adding unnecessary toolbars to Web browsers.
The announcement followed a six-month investigation, which concluded that the Los Angeles-based company and its agents downloaded more than 3.7 million programs to New York residents' machines and "tens of millions more to users across the nation."
Research firm META Group estimates that cleaning infected clients can represent 20 percent or more of IT helpdesk efforts.
Spyware and adware makes their way onto users' computers when they download free software such as screensavers or games. Once on the system, the software cannot be removed through the "add/remove" function, does not have an "uninstall" option and actually reinstalls itself if deleted, the Attorney General's office said. In other cases, a toolbar is added to users' Web browsers.
Spitzer said his suit seeks a court order enjoining Intermix from secretly installing spyware, an account of all revenues made on these products and an undisclosed payment of penalties.
Christopher Lipp, senior vice president and general counsel for Intermix, said in a statement that the company does not promote or condone the use of spyware and does not use its redirect applications to collect personal information. The company stopped distributing the applications in question April 15, Lipp said.
Three pieces of legislation addressing spyware have been introduced in the U.S. Congress this year. One of these bills, the SPY Act, would prohibit software that gathers information without a user's permission. However, some lawmakers and industry experts fear that such a broad stroke could affect unobtrusive Web services like weather updates.