House of Representatives Bans Spyware

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Two bills pass the House with overwhelming majorities, and will severely penalize spyware makers.

The applications download silently, completely unobvious to the typical Internet user. By visiting certain malicious web sites, disguised as something benign, the user triggers the download.

In some cases, the computer starts displaying ads for products almost non-stop. In others, the user’s visits to sites get tracked and reported to the spyware companies. Either scenario represents a rich payoff to the provider while users get stuck with sluggish and non-functioning computers crippled by the extra load.

In more criminal uses, spyware logs the keystrokes a user makes, capturing information like usernames and passwords to financial sites, and passes that along to a collecting site.

A $2 billion USD market for these stealth services continues to propel their efforts. It’s too much money for some to ignore, and they all too easily toss aside any ethical considerations in favor of the payoff.

And this isn’t a problem limited to a few dozen or hundred machines. In a previous article, WebProNews noted how a leading anti-spyware maker determined that 88% of all consumer machines have some form of spyware residing in their systems.

Not all providers of desktop applications resort to spyware or other sneaky tricks. Jon Fowler, CEO & President of Digital Information Network, says his company is one of the good guys.

“For DIN, there is no gray area when it comes to malware. DIN does not track users’ surfing habits, change content, install third-party software, or conduct any other illicit activities that plague desktop software, and challenges the industry to adhere to this higher standard of ethical conduct,” Mr. Fowler said in an exclusive statement to WebProNews.

The challenge Mr. Fowler makes just picked up some Congressional backing. Two bills passed by the House prohibit a host of activity committed by spyware makers.

Keylogging, changing browser start pages, and launching pop-ups that freeze a machine fall into the category of prohibited practices. Phishing scams also fall into that category.

Violators face jail time of up to 2 years for nuisance spyware, and risk having an additional 5 years tacked on for criminal acts like identity theft.

Further, each incident could generate fines of up to $3 million USD per incident. Both of these bills passed the House last year, but the Senate adjourned before they could be presented there.

Microsoft’s managing director of federal government affairs commented on passage of the Spy Act and the I-Spy Act yesterday.

David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.

House of Representatives Bans Spyware
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