FTC Fines Pop-Up Company

Gretchen Gallen
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a cautionary tale to the Internet advertising community this week when it flagged a San Diego company, claiming it took advantage of a glitch in Microsoft's Windows operating system to harass computer users with a six-month long blizzard of pop-up ads.

In some cases the ads were sent to certain computer users in ten-minute intervals.

According to the FTC, part of the campaign in question tried to cajole consumers into purchasing an anti-pop-up software program. But the text in the pop-up stated that if they didn't purchase the software program, the pesky ad campaign would only continue, if not worsen. The software in question sold from one of the company's numerous websites for between $25 and $30.

"This is nothing more than a high-tech version of a classic scam," said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The defendants created the problem that they proposed to solve – for a fee. Their pop-up spam wasted computer users' time and caused them needless frustration."

The company in question, D Squared Solutions, LLC, launched its intensive pop-up campaign in May of this year based on a weakness in the Windows Messenger Service, according to the FTC. Windows Messenger Service is a network administrator communication system.

At any given time, D Squared Solutions was able to send an hourly onslaught of pop-up ads to 135,000 Internet addresses based on a database of 2 billion unique addresses, the FTC reported.

The FTC alleges that D Squared was using extortion-like tactics in its aggressive attempt to get people to buy its software. A temporary restraining order was issued against the company and legal action could include financial penalties.

The company's owners, Anish Dhingra and Jeffrey Davis, were told to discontinue their use of the Windows Messenger Service to send ads.

According to a statement issued by the FTC, D Squared has been charged with one count for extortion and one count for improperly using Windows Messenger Service to deliver unsolicited advertisements.

As a warning to the advertising community, the FTC said that it would not hesitate to fine companies in the future that use unsolicited messages to interfere with computer users. However, the FTC recognizes that pop-up advertising is a viable and legitimate form of Internet advertising.