US District Court in California orders movieland to stop nagging pop-ups
Thanks to Donna Buenaventura for bringing this to my attention.
It has been reported at SC Magazine US that a US District Court in California has ordered a movie download service to stop barraging users with pop-up advertisements:
“Barraging” is a nice way of describing what is among the worst behaviour by a “legitimate” Web site that I have ever seen. To recap what the movieland and popcorn.net software does:
1. Users are offered three days “free” access to members-only content on sites including movieland.com, moviepass.tv and popcorn.net is offered to Web surfers via pop-up advertisements.
2. If the offer is accepted, the Web surfer must download software to take advantage of the three days of “free” access with the software variously being known as “MediaPipe”, “FileGrabber” or “Media Assistant”.
3. After the three free days expire, new “billing” software is apparently downloaded that generates pop-up windows (and videos) that warn the user that their three day access has expired and that they must now purchase membership because they had not stopped using the access software. The pop-ups display the user’s IP address and customer ID, as well as the time and date of installation of the trial software (this, let me say now, does not make the “billing” software “spyware”).
4. Although users are warned when they install the original access software that they will receive “payment reminders”, they are not told what these reminders are, or how disruptive they will be.
5. The pop-ups appear every hour, starting when the user accesses the internet.
6. The initial pop up is large, obscuring much of the available screen real estate, and is not easy to close – the only action a user can easily take is to click on a “Continue” button which launches a 40 second long video alleging that because the user has not cancelled their “free” access, they are now legally obligated to purchase membership. Again, the video is not easily closed.
7. There is no opportunity to decline membership and remove the access software after the three day free access period expires.
8. Although an entry appears in Add/Remove Programs, the entry does no more than redirect the user to a payment page. It seems from my reading of the original complaint that the entry in Add/Remove Programs only exhibits this behavior *after* the three days of free access has expired. I assume that before the three days expire the access software can be removed successfully. This could be a very important point in the legal fight to come.
The above behaviour is also the focus of a lawsuit from Attorney General McKenna and Movieland.com and Associates that I discussed here:
I am disappointed in the US District Court’s decision in California. I don’t believe that limiting the pop-ups and obtaining user’s permission before displaying advertisements is sufficient; the users should also be given the option to uninstall the software, which cannot currently be removed as per point 8 above.
I can only hope that Attorney General McKenna demands far more from Digital Enterprises etc than the US District Court in California was willing to settle for.