FTC Settles with Lenovo Over Ad Software

The FTC has signed off on a final settlement with laptop maker Lenovo, one of the world's largest computer manufacturers, over charges it harmed consumers by not telling them it had included pre-loaded software in some computers that delivered ads and compromised the computer's security.

The FTC had charged in the complaint that starting in August 2014, Lenovo sold the laptops in the U.S. with the preloaded ad software program VisualDiscovery, which created "serious" security issues.

Related: Lenovo Settles FTC Pop-Ad Software Complaint

The program "was always on and running in the background without the consumer having to do anything to start or otherwise activate the software," the FTC said. "There was no desktop icon for VisualDiscovery; there was no icon in the computer’s applications tray to indicate that VisualDiscovery was running; and VisualDiscovery was not listed among the ‘All Programs’ list of installed programs, available when the consumer clicked on the Windows’ Start button."

The FTC has been deeded even more authority over computer privacy with the FCC's vote to overturn the Title II classification of ISPs and return oversight of broadband privacy to the FTC.

It does not have to stop pre-loading the software, but it cannot misrepresent any features of that software, must get affirmative consumer consent for it, and must fix the security issues via a 20-year software security program for most of the consumer software on its laptop, a program that will be audited by an independent third party.

The vote to approve the final order was 2-0 (the FTC, unlike the FCC, can approve items with only two members, though the decisions must, of course, be unanimous).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.