FTC Obtains Injunction of Page Jacking and Mouse Trapping Scam

(September 24, 1999) The Federal Trade Commission obtained a preliminary injunction against several individual and corporate defendants in Australia and Portugal whose web scam to promote pornography sites involved "page jacking" and "mouse trapping." The FTC plead in its complaint that these practices "impair the growth of the Internet as a commercial medium."

Related Story: How the Scam Works, 9/24/99.

The Federal Trade Commission filed its original complaint September 14, 1999 in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia, in Alexandria. On September 21, Judge Claude Hilton issued a broad preliminary injunction which affects not only the Defendants, but also all web hosts and registrars, including Network Solutions, Inc.

The practices at issue are labeled by the FTC as "page jacking" and "mouse trapping." With page jacking, the perpetrator copies the legitimate web pages of others, and adds a redirect script which includes the URL of another web site run by the perpetrator, such as taboohardcore.com.

The page jacked pages are then indexed by search engines, and web users find and click through to the page jacked pages via search engine listings, thinking that they are going to a legitimate web page. In this case, the redirect sites all contained advertisements for pornography.

With mouse trapping, scripts are added to the pages containing porn ads which cause  more porn ads pages to be displayed when the user clicks the browser's back or close buttons.

The FTC announced this case a press conference at FTC headquarters in Washington DC on Wednesday, September 22. The event was attended by Jodie Bernstein (Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection), Don Blumenthal (the FTC's Internet lab coordinator), Paul Luehr (FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection), and much of the legal and investigation team at the FTC who worked on the case.

John Fischer, a lawyer for a web site operator who was victimized by the scam, also participated. In addition, Allan Asher, Deputy Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), participated by video conferencing from Canberra.

Jodie Bernstein stated that this was the FTC's 100th Internet case, but the "most pernicious." She explained:

"These operators high jacked websites, kidnapped consumers and held them captive. They exposed surfers, including children, to the seamiest sort of material and incapacitated computer close buttons so they couldn't escape. They copied as many as 25 million Web pages from sites as diverse as the Harvard Law Review and the Japanese Friendship Garden."

Related Pages
FTC's original complaint, 9/14/99.
Judge Hilton's Preliminary Injunction, 9/21/99.

Judge Hilton's preliminary injunction is broad and far reaching. It restrains the Defendants from copying other people's web pages, inserting redirect commands in any web page, misrepresenting the contents of their web pages in meta tags or by other means, overriding the normal functioning of a user's browser, and registering any new domain names without notifying the FTC.

The preliminary injunction also enjoins anyone who hosts web sites from hosting any site accessible to the public under the domain names that were used by the Defendants.

However, the most important part of Judge Hilton's order requires that:

"Network Solutions, Inc., and any other domain name registrar shall:

A. Immediately suspend the registration of atariz.com, piratelynx.com, taboosisters.com, taboohardcore.com, tabooanimals.com, shemen.com, and extreme-boys.com; and

B. Immediately notify counsel for the FTC of any other Web page or Web site operated or controlled by any defendant."

Since the Defendants are persons of low moral character who reside in Portugal and Australia, the suspension of domain name registrations is likely the provision which is most effective in stopping their operations, at least temporarily.

In addition to the FTC's action in the U.S., the ACCC obtained and executed search warrants in Australian. Allan Asher reported that "over the last hours, in conjunction with the Australian federal police, we have been executing a whole series of search warrants on premises on the east coast of Australia, and that we have been able to obtain and make copies of a large number of computer servers, and to interview a number of individuals in connection with that. We have taken some detailed statements."

He added that "commerce is global, and unfortunately, that means fraud and consumer deception are global. And that calls out for a far more global enforcement cooperation as well. And that, from our part, we will be hoping to extend some of the cooperation agreements between our countries that currently relate to antitrust arrangements, also to consumer protection ones, so that we can offer consumers, wherever they are, the sort of protection they deserve. And so, we are very keen to work on this project, and to provide any further information to the FTC that we can."

The FTC complaint also alleges that the Defendants "generate substantial revenues through this scheme." At the FTC's press conference on September 22, FTC officials elaborated that income in a scheme like this could be generated from for views of the pornography site ads, clicks through to the pornography sites, and new memberships resulting from these click throughs. In addition, Defendants could resell the domains used.

The injuries resulting from this scam were many. First, innocent web users, including many children, were tricked and trapped into viewing insidious pornographic images. Second, the web sites whose page were stolen suffered loss of users, and hence, loss of income from advertising, loss of income from online sales, and a decrease in the value of their web property.

Finally, the scam greatly degraded the experience of web users, thus disinclining them to use the web. The FTC plead that the Defendant's practices "impair the growth of the Internet as a commercial medium."

Jodie Bernstein stated at the press conference that "We see the enormous potential of Internet for education, communication and commerce. But this kind of treachery, left unchecked, will surely sabotage confidence in this great new medium."