As has been reported on more than a few sources over the past two days, search engine giant Google sued a company known as Pacific WebWorks this week, a company that counts web hosting among its services.
Pacific WebWorks runs ads online promising customers they can make money with work-at-home kits that cost a $2 or $3 "instant access fee," but, according to Google's lawsuit, can face monthly fees of close to $80 until they opt out.
Google's specific complaint is that the company misuses Google's name and trademarks in an effort to lend its own products legitimacy, and as a result is having a negative impact on Google's brand. One oft-cited example, taken from Google's lawsuit, is the announcement by Pacific of a new "Google Adwork" program, which obviously sounds very close to Google's AdWords service. The Pacific ad reportedly promises to help anyone "make a living working from home."
According to the lawsuit, filed in Utah, the company regularly changes website addresses in order to help it avoid detection, but repeatedly uses the same blog posts and ad copy.
Several reports have mentioned the company settled a case with the Utah division of Consumer Protection in 2007, after the state accused the company of making unauthorized charges to customers, and another class-action lawsuit is pending against the company in Illinois.
A PC World article reports that, according to the company's recent SEC filings, Pacific made $21.4 million in gross profit through the first nine months of 2009, for a set of services it describes as "Visual WebTools," used for designing and maintaining websites.
Google says other trademark-infringing names the company has used for its money-making schemes include "Google Payday Kit" and "Google Marketing Kit," as well as many others.
The products, as described by Google's lawsuit, and described by more than a few online sources as "scams," seem to be the modern update to the old Don Lapre "make money placing tiny classified ads" infomercials of the 1990s (there's some more info on that at Wikipedia).
Whether the actual product being promised by the company is a "scam," or whether it is illegal seems to be in question, though many reports seem to be using the words "customer" and "victim" interchangeably.
The PC World article, which spends much of its time going through the company's financials, quotes malware researcher Chris Boyd, who points to several tactics used by Pacific and companies like this he would consider misleading or "obnoxious."
PC World, and several other sources, has said Pacific WebWorks refused to comment on the lawsuit.
For a company that might be trying to fly under the radar in some respects, being sued by one of the biggest companies in the world more than likely means an unwelcome boost to the public profile, however.
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