Avira has filed a lawsuit against the German Freemium.com download site for confusing users into installing unwanted programs that can compromise their privacy or weaken their computers’ security.
Avira has long been spearheading the detection of this kind of software as “Potentially Unwanted Applications” (PUA) and we are the first security vendor to take a software publisher to court over this unfair business practice. The case will be heard at the Hamburg regional court.
“It is time to take the fight against this next-generation adware directly to the source,” said Travis Witteveen, CEO of Avira GmbH. “Freemium.com is engaged in unfair competition that violates consumers’ legal right to privacy and uses invalid contracts.”
The core issue is Freemium.com’s software installation tool or “wrapper”, which itself is a PUA. It uses social engineering tricks to make the user install other potentially unwanted applications in addition to the initial desired software – and the user is not even aware of this.
“It’s like putting ten layers of wrapping paper on a single present– there’s room for a lot of unpleasant crapware to be hidden,” explained Mr. Witteveen. “We’ve documented where a user wanting to download a single app could end up with four additional programs, two browser extensions, and a desktop link to a gaming site.”
The wrapper is also used on other gaming and download sites hosted by ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG, an investor in Freemium.com, as well as Axel Springer’s Computerbild.de download portal.
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
One issue with Freemium.com is that the end-user agreements (EULA) governing customers’ relationship with these apps range from invalid to nonsensical. “One extreme example was a German corporation using English language contracts filed under Egyptian laws for German consumers,” noted Claus Kaufmann, General Counsel at Avira. The data use policies give apps virtually unlimited rights to sell and share information about consumers, record data use, and track locations.
Avira’s base in Germany puts the company in a strong geographic position. “Germany is a global leader when it comes to protecting the privacy of individuals – and their data,” Mr. Kaufmann explained. “We will use our location here in Germany as a bully pulpit to strengthen consumer’s rights to privacy.”
A HISTORY OF CONSUMER PROTECTION
Going on the offensive against online scams has been part of Avira’s history for nearly 30 years. “Back in the dark ages before broadband, Avira went aggressively against dial-up sites and subscription traps,” said Mr. Witteveen. “We see this lawsuit against Freemium.com as another step in our history of defending all consumers.” Freemium.com previously took Avira to court – and lost – over Avira warning users that many of the site’s apps were PUA.
UNWANTED APPS ARE A PROBLEM
Unwanted apps are a real problem for consumers. “In the last seven months, we’ve sent our customers more than 225 million PUA warnings. More than 63 million of those warnings were for an installation tool similar to that used by Freemium.com which can include a number of unwanted apps,” stated Alexander Vukcevic, head of the Avira Virus Labs. Avira has made several recent steps against this type of software distribution:
- Published PUA guidelines for software developers.
- Added a PUA Shield to the Avira Browser Safety plugin.
- Launched safeapps.avira.com, a portal where users can download clean free apps without worrying.
“This lawsuit is just the latest step,” stated Mr. Witteveen. “We will continue to work at many levels to stop the flood of nuisance applications.”