Anti-virus firm wins case over potentially unwanted Angry Birds clone

Moorhuhn remakeAnti-virus companies have been walking a legal tightrope for years.

Many of their customers want them to block (or at least warn of) software that isn't out-and-out malicious as malware.

For instance, programs that are supported by aggressive advertising or download a myriad of toolbars onto your computer, would probably be unwelcome for many of us.

But the vast majority of users don't appear to bother to properly read the small print and simply click:

OK. I agree. Just install the software already. I don't have time for any more legalese

Only afterwards, when they're suffering, do they wonder how their computers got into such a state.

For this reason, anti-virus solutions started to detect a new category of software: "Potentially unwanted programs" (sometimes called Potentially Unwanted Applications).

The PUP software may not be doing anything legally wrong, but is still undesirable in the opinion of many users. Anti-virus firms want to help those users keep PUPs off their computers, but don't want to get into legal wrangles with the companies writing and distributing the software by calling it - gulp - malicious.

It became the user's choice whether PUPs were blocked or not, taking the security firm out of the equation and - hopefully - out of range from legal threats.

Now ComputerWorld reports, that German anti-virus firm Avira has won a court case after it blocked a bundle of programs primarily presented as a rip-off homage to the ever-popular Angry Birds game.

Moorhuhn Remake

As ComputerWorld describes, a Berlin court dismissed a cease-and-desist order made by Freemium GmbH against Avira, after the anti-virus software warned that Moorhuhn Remake's download came bundled with potentially unwanted software:

Moorhuhn Remake was one of several programs wrapped into a software download manager offered on websites including www.computerbild.de, published by Axel Springer, according to a professional translation of the ruling provided by Avira.

Other programs were offered in the bundle, which go by the names PC TuneUP, Driver Finder, Super Easy Register Cleaner, Web Companion, Sparpilot, Browsing Secure, OK Freedom and Zoomit.

Freemium maintained that users could opt out of downloading the additional programs, but both parties disagreed over how transparent that process was.

Avira contended that there was no discernible link between Moorhuhn Remake and the other applications. The fine print and licensing terms were also unclear to users, Avira argued. Avira blocks what it considers to be PUPs from other publishers aside from Freemium.

Freemium claimed that the blocking by Avira's security software had caused a 50 percent decline in its revenue since February.

AviraFreemium had been hoping to receive substantial compensation for what it viewed as trade regulation violations, and see Avira's managing director sent to prison for up to six months.

As it is, the games' manufacturer has been ordered to pay €500,000 in court costs instead.

My advice to other software firms thinking of bundling their software with other revenue-generating apps and adware that could be considered "potentially unwanted"?

Think again.

Find another way to make cash beyond foisting software onto unsuspecting users who may not realise they're getting more than they bargained for.

Tags: , , , , ,

Smashing Security podcast
Check out "Smashing Security", the new weekly audio podcast, with Graham Cluley, Carole Theriault, and special guests from the world of information security.

"Three people having fun in an industry often focused on bad news" • "It's brilliant!" • "The Top Gear of computer security"

Latest episode:

, , , , ,

5 Responses

  1. Bob

    June 29, 2015 at 8:33 pm #

    Nice to see costs awarded to Avira.

    Hopefully it will make the distributors of PUPs think twice in the future. I seem to remember an American case (almost identical) where the court said that it's up to the users of AV software whether to use the AV and, those that do, are consenting to the application removing malicious software (and PUPs) on their behalf.

  2. Anonymous

    June 30, 2015 at 7:41 am #

    >and see Avira's managing director sent to prison for up to six months.

    What a nice bunch.

    (have a look at your homepage, Graham, there's a slight ^H format issue with the article preview description)

  3. JohnOH

    June 30, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    Software that's intended to deceive should be dealt with like this all over the world. Anything that acts without etiquette should be fined and their software declared illegal. Lets face it, immoral behavior that takes over anothers computer must be condemned. Its time the “Internet” had a constitution!!!

    • Coyote in reply to JohnOH.

      July 1, 2015 at 1:38 am #

      No, no, no, that would be a terrible idea. Please do not bring the cesspool called politics to the Internet. There already have been statements (Kaspersky…) about an Internet passport, and that is also foolish at best. That would also be a bad idea. A constitution for the Internet? It would mean practically nothing but assuming others were to try to enforce it, you would have:

      – More chaos.
      – More censorship.
      – More problems in general (the Internet works in a specific way and anyone who thinks they are wise enough to create a constitution most likely wouldn't understand this).

      The only standards that we should have are those we already have (RFCs). Those that are important.

      Besides this, it is a very dangerous slope to start climbing down, to try to make a global law about software or the Internet (or behaviour on). Too many nations meddle in the affairs of other nations (because there is no such thing as too much conflict, yes?) and I would love to see the outrage in Americans (or any other nation not involved) were told they had to follow the laws of China, Russia or some other nation that many Americans (others) have problems with just by name (not even thinking of politics, religion, other controversial things). And that is exactly the same thing as trying to make Internet laws.

      Cooperating, trying to raise awareness, not provoking other nations? That would be welcome. But that is very different and highly unlikely.

  4. Vito

    June 30, 2015 at 6:48 pm #

    The apologists for the kind of deceptive practices discussed in this article shamelessly defend them with a "caveat emptor" argument, as though they don't already know full well that folks are not going to take the time to read all the fine print. They simply ignore the fact that many of these crapware download pages are deliberately designed to trick users into clicking through and then unwarily installing software they would never agree to install if the choice were laid clearly before them.

    Case in point: Take a look at the eleven pages of user outrage on the FileZilla user forum thread entitled "Malware or Spyware on FileZilla SourceForge Download":

    https://forum.filezilla-project.org/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=32945

    Users who want to download FileZilla from SourceForge are confronted with a download agreement that perfectly illustrates the kind of deception discussed in this article. Worst of all, FileZilla's developer persistently defends SourceForge's nefarious journey to the Dark Side, insisting that all users have the ability to opt out of installing the unwanted software.

    Some users report that the junkware installs anyway, but even if it didn't, the “you can opt out” argument handily sidesteps the point that SourceForge is clearly using a socially engineered deceptive practice. People don’t have time to read every last detail, and they presume a certain level of trust in the download process. That trust is being abused by SourceForge and others who use similar methods. All arguments that attempt to evade those facts are just plain bogus.

Leave a Reply