The Federal Trade Commission has shut down three companies, Enternet Media, Conspy & Co. and Networld One, which allegedly used song lyrics, browser upgrades and ringtones - among other techniques - to download spyware onto PCs.
The companies used toolbars called SearchMiracle, Miracle Search, EM Toolbar, EliteBar and Elite Toolbar to track users' internet preferences and then bombard them with advertisements, the FTC alleged.
"The FTC alleges the practices are unfair and deceptive and violate the FTC Act," a commission statement read. "The agency will seek a permanent ban on the practices, and redress for consumers."
Eric L. Howes, an anti-spyware researcher who assists the FTC with investigations, said Friday that the shutdown is "a big win for consumers and web surfers."
"SearchMiracle/EliteBar is one of the more abusive adware/spyware programs on the net," he said. "Until the FTC shut down the operation, the software was typically installed through misleading and deceptive means, and once on victims' PCs was almost impossible to remove because the software used rootkit technology to hide itself."
Howes said the feds should take similar action with like companies.
"The FTC should persecute similar adware operations vigorously, shut them down, force the parties responsible to disgorge all ill-gotten revenues and prohibit them from working the online advertising and adware installation/distribution space ever again."