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FTC, AG Blame 'Extortionware' For Pop-up Hell

The Federal Trade Commission and the state of Washington have sued a group of companies and individuals for delivering so-called "extortionware," barrages of pop-up ads that demand payment to make the distracting displays go away, the pair announced this week.

In a statement Tuesday, the FTC outlined its complaint, which was submitted to a Los Angeles federal court last week. Washington filed its lawsuit on Monday with a King County court in Seattle, claiming that the companies violated the state's anti-spyware laws.

According to the FTC and Rob McKenna, Washington's attorney general, the defendants pushed a movie download service from sites including Movieland.com, Popcorn.net, and Moviepass.tv, all of which offered a three-day free trial. After that, however, things get ugly.

"Consumers are inundated with pop-ups that appear at least hourly and subject the consumer to a 40-second payment demand that cannot be closed," said McKenna in a statement e-mailed to TechWeb. "Thousands of consumers nationwide have complained to my office, the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, and others about the defendants' unfair practices," he added. Consumers forked over between $20 and over $100 to get the pop-ups to stop.

The FTC said that the sites were also blasting pop-ups to users who said they had never signed up for the service's trial offer. "Most [consumers] claimed they had never signed up for the 'free trial, never used Movieland's services, and never even heard of Movieland until they got their first demand for payment."

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