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The US Federal Trade Commission is resisting calls from consumer lobbyists to pass anti-spyware legislation. Regulators have instead joined with the IT industry to call for improved self-regulation and user education.

Spyware applications are programs that secretly forward information about a user's online activities to third-parties without a user's knowledge or permission.

At an FTC workshop on the issue this week, Commissioner Mozelle Thompson said it was too early for laws to ban spyware. The FTC reckons the deceptive practices employed by many spyware applications are already illegal under existing laws against consumer fraud and identity theft, The Washington Post reports.

Utah recently became the first US state to declare spyware a crime. Critics say the law is too broad and could ban legitimate applications. Defining what is - or is not - spyware is highly contentious. Two anti-spyware bills have been tabled at Congress but neither has much momentum behind them. That, combined with a lack of desire for tougher rules from regulators, is placing the issue on hold, at least legally.

So consumers need to look to IT suppliers for protection. And greater awareness is the order of the day, just as it is for the similar risks posed by virus and spam. This is all well and good, but tougher enforcement against offenders, as advocated by group like the Center for Democracy and Technology, surely ought to be part of the equation. ®

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