The suit follows a six-month investigation, which revealed that Los Angeles-based Intermix Media installed programs that redirect web addresses, add toolbars and deliver pop-up ads without giving consumers proper notice, Spitzer claimed.
Intermix owns and operates a range of web sites, including mycoolscreen.com, cursorzone.com, and flowgo.com, which advertised screensavers and other software as free downloads. Along with that software, Intermix secretly downloaded ad-delivery programs, according to Spitzer.
The company also made it difficult to remove the programs, omitting un-install applications or reinstalling them after deletion, the attorney general alleged.
Spitzer claims that Intermix downloaded more than 3.7 million spyware and adware programs to New Yorkers and "tens of millions more to users across the nation."
"Spyware and adware are more than an annoyance," Spitzer said in a prepared statement. "These fradulent programs foul machines, undermine productivity, and in many cases frustrate consumers' efforts to remove them from their computers."
In a statement, Intermix officials said the practices cited by Spitzer were conducted under previous management and have already been dropped or altered.
Richard Stiennon, vice president of threat research at anti-spyware supplier Webroot, called Spitzer's lawsuit "rather earthshattering."
"It's the first time anyone on the prosecutorial side has come out and said it like it is. He calls adware spyware and vice versa, which will help the debate over terminology," he said.
As reported in SC Magazine, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against an alleged spam operation that bombarded internet users with illegal emails touting mortgage services and travel deals.