Adware distributor Zango will give up $3m (£1.6m) in "ill-gotten gains" for deceptive downloads that displayed billions of unwanted pop-up ads in a settlement with the US FTC (Federal Trade Commission).

The settlement bars Zango from loading software on to consumers' computers without their consent, the FTC said. The settlement also requires Zango, formerly known as 180solutions Inc, to provide a way for consumers to remove the adware. Also named in the settlement were Zango executives Keith Smith and Daniel Todd, of Bellevue, Washington.

"Consumers... shouldn't have to accept any content they don’t want," Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "If consumers choose to receive pop-up ads, so be it. But it violates federal law to secretly install software that forces consumers to get pop-ups that disrupt their computer use."

Zango said the settlement establishes standards for software downloads and provides consumers with a "new and higher level of protection". Zango claims it has met or exceeded the settlement's requirements since 1 January and the company has hired an independent auditor to monitor its compliance with the FTC settlement.

The CDT (Center for Democracy and Technology), a consumer and civil rights advocacy group that filed a complaint against Zango in January, applauded the settlement.

"This is a landmark settlement, and one that sends an important message to companies that have built their businesses on the backs of internet users without any concern for what those users want," Ari Schwartz, CDT's deputy director, said in a statement.

Zango often used third parties to install adware on consumers’ computers, the FTC said. The adware monitored consumers’ internet use in order to display targeted pop-up ads.

Zango's software has been installed on US consumers’ computers more than 70 million times and has displayed more than 6.9 billion pop-up ads, the FTC said. The third-party distributors often offered consumers free software, such as screensavers, peer-to-peer file sharing software and games, without saying adware would be included, the FTC said.