EGames settles with US state over spyware

Family computer game maker EGames is removing third-party software from its products that allowed unsolicited ads to be sent to customers' computers over the internet, under an agreement reached last week with the Michigan attorney general's office.

          Family computer game maker EGames is removing third-party software from its products that allowed unsolicited ads to be sent to customers' computers over the internet, under an agreement reached last week with the Michigan attorney general's office.

          Tracy Sonneborn, an assistant attorney general in the state's consumer protection division, says the case arose late last year when his office learned that EGames, in Langhorne, Pennsylvania., was including third-party "spyware" in its products without disclosing their use.

          "I think the concern was that the demos you could download and the retail boxes did also include this separate program," which was installed along with the game with little notice to consumers, Sonneborn says. A disclosure about the additional program wasn't clearly made on the retail package or on the company's download website, he says.

          The installation process had a "very fleeting reference" to the installation of TimeSink, by Conducent Technologies in Sterling, Virginia, but it wasn't something an unwary consumer might notice, Sonneborn says.

          The TimeSink program permits unsolicited advertising messages to be sent to the user's computer over theiInternet from Conducent's ad servers, according to EGames. The utility also sent other information to Conducent's servers, including the computer's operating system type, IP address and the EGames product being used, to allow ads to be custom sent to the user's PC. A Conducent spokesman couldn't be reached this morning.

          "These were the disclosures that we think under our Consumer Protection Act should have been made to consumers," Sonneborn says. "They wouldn't have been facts that consumers could have been expected to discover on their own."

          The company was "very responsive" and cooperative in reaching the settlement, he says.

          In addition to keeping such software out of their products in the future, EGames has posted a patch file on its website to allow users of its products to remove the TimeSink software from their computers.

          Under the agreement, the company has also posted a clear and concise privacy policy on its website to let customers know how the company will use and collect customer information.

          EGames sells computer software, including children's games, Mahjongg games, puzzle games, "Galaxy of Games" collections and others, through Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target stores and through mail order.

          Ellen Pulver Flatt, senior associate counsel for EGames, says several customers had voiced concerns about the ad software and that the company was "in the process" of making similar changes when the Michigan attorney general's office filed a "Notice of Intended Action" to review the case.

          Flatt says the ads sent to consumers using the software were "family-friendly" and didn't collect any personally identifiable information about users.

          "The state of Michigan was very helpful to us in coming up with a privacy policy that we feel comfortable with," Flatt says.

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