The Federal Trade Commission said on Thursday that it had obtained a court order barring one company's use of the Windows Messenger system to barrage consumers with pop-up advertising.

Microsoft designed the Messenger Service for system administrators to notify users about the network, but acknowledged that some advertisers have found a way to use the service to send advertising messages and possibly viruses.

It advises consumers not using the system to deactivate it.

The FTC action targeted D Squared, claiming the company "engaged in an unfair practice by interfering with consumers' use of their computers, specifically by causing a stream of multiple, unwanted Windows Messenger Service pop-ups to appear on their computer screens."

"The defendants created the problem that they proposed to solve - for a fee. Their pop-up spam wasted computer users time and caused them needless frustration"

Howard Beales,
FTC consumer protection chief

Ironically, the messages instructed consumers to visit sites that suggest that the barrage of pop-ups could be stopped by purchasing software at a cost of $25 to 30, the FTC said.

"This is nothing more than a high-tech version of a classic scam," said Howard Beales, the FTC's consumer protection chief.

"The defendants created the problem that they proposed to solve - for a fee. Their pop-up spam wasted computer users time and caused them needless frustration."

The FTC said the company also sold or licensed their pop-up-sending software to other people, allowing them to engage in the same conduct, and sold a database of more than two billion addresses of computer users.