Google Sponsors Anti-Badware Campaign
Google has added its name to a list of sponsors that includes Lenovo and Sun Microsystems, all of whom are joining an initiative to fight “badware,” a collective term for spyware, malware, and adware.
StopBadware.org was spawned by the joint efforts of Harvard Law’s Berkman Center, the Oxford Internet Institute, and Consumer Reports WebWatch as an online support group (they call it a “Neighborhood Watch”)where users can describe problems they’ve had with badware, where downloadable applications are independently evaluated, and objective information is published.Consumer Reports WebWatch, a grant-funded project of Consumers Union, has agreed to a pro-bono role as special consumer adviser.
The website is intended to spotlight the companies that make copious amounts of money by getting Internet users to download malicious spyware, adware and malware programs they don’t want.
The Berkman Center and Oxford Internet Institute hope the initiative will deter companies that produce badware by publishing their names online. At the same time the site is aimed at educating software developers by providing principles they can follow to provide a positive user experience.
Internet users will be able to check to see if programs they want to download are badware and alert others to malicious programs they have encountered. StopBadware.org will also publish short reports on downloads they have identified as badware, as well as more detailed academic studies on the problem of badware.
“Intruders are now in your house without your permission,” said John Palfrey, co-director of StopBadware.org and Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.
“They entered through your computer to bombard you with sneaky pop-ups and install tracking software to spy on your every move and steal your most personal information, such as credit card or Social Security numbers, in order to sell that data to a stranger. StopBadware.org will shine a much needed light on the unethical activities of these companies.”
Unlike viruses and worms, badware becomes embedded in a computer by downloading games or software or just by visiting certain websites. According to a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project, roughly 59 million American adults today have badware on their computers. Problems associated with badware have cost home computer users roughly $3.5 billion in 2003 and 2004 to replace or repair their hardware, according to Consumer Reports.
“WebWatch research shows these and other threats are turning almost a third of U.S. Internet users away from the Web,” said Beau Brendler, director of Consumer Reports WebWatch.
“For the last decade, we have been amazed and delighted by what we can do online. And yet people feel increasingly powerless to stop unscrupulous individuals and companies from infecting their computers with programs that they didn’t request,” said Vint Cerf, one of the Internet’s founding fathers and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google.
According to a recent study from Webroot Software, badware today is a $2 billion-a-year industry.