Spyware Definitions A Good And Bad Idea

    July 13, 2005
    WebProNews Staff

The usefulness of defining spyware benefits both the makers of anti-spyware products as well as the spyware coders.

One old axiom about the Internet is that if traffic encounters a bottleneck, the Internet just routes around it. People do that in everyday life. If someone finds a shortcut through a residential neighborhood lets them bypass a congested main road, pretty soon a steady stream of SUVs come rocketing past homes at rush hour.

The Anti-Spyware Coalition, which has been recently formed, wants to build a consensus about spyware definitions, and best practices for combating it.

ASC has support from a number of technology firms, including Microsoft, AOL, Webroot, and others. Ari Schwartz, Associate Director of the Washington, DC-based Center for Democracy and Technology, serves as the main industry contact for ASC.

Yesterday, the ASC opened a public comment period on defining spyware. Finding definitions for it will allow anti-spyware distributors and companies that make adware programs to settle disputes between them. Not all adware is spyware; some of it provides the benefit of offering free software to users in exchange for its presence.

But much of adware enters a user’s system with minimal intervention, if any, on the user’s part. And much of the problem can be blamed on users who blithely hit the Yes button when a popup asks if it can install software.

By developing a living set of standards for defining spyware, companies can better help users keep unwanted programs off their systems. Malicious spyware makers will disregard standards anyway. But a group of standards should lead to better development of laws against spyware, as well as prosecution of those who profit from it.

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