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Industry coalition takes stab at defining spyware

Grappling with semantics

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Technology companies have formed an alliance with public interest groups to tackle spyware. Membership of the Anti-Spyware Coalition (here) includes large software developers, anti-spyware companies and others. Current members include AOL, Computer Associates, EarthLink, HP, Lavasoft, McAfee, Microsoft, PC Tools, Symantec, Trend Micro, Yahoo!, UC Berkeley, the Business Software Alliance and the Cyber Security Industry Alliance.

ASC has ventured where angels fear to tread in drafting a definition for "spyware" (below), which it's offering up for public debate. Comments (to ASC not El Reg, thank you) are invited until 12 August after which ASC will formulate a "final definition" for spyware which it promises will incorporate the best recommendations for the public at large.

Spyware and other potentially unwanted technologies are those that "impair users' control over material changes that affect their user experience, privacy, or system security; use of their system resources, including what programs are installed on their computers; or collection, use, and distribution of their personal or otherwise sensitive information."

That's a bit of a mouthful but ASC hopes its definition will settle a few pub arguments and allow vendors to concentrate on weightier matters, such as fighting the growth of spyware. "One of the biggest challenges we've had with spyware has been agreeing on what it is," said Ari Schwartz, Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, which has led the work of the group. "The anti-spyware community needs a way to quickly and decisively categorize the new programs spawning at exponential rates across the Internet. The definitions will serve as a foundation for all future efforts to help users make more informed decisions about which programs to keep and which to delete."

To help consumers, the coalition has drafted an extensive glossary of terms like adware, port scanner, screen scraper, and others commonly associated with unwanted programs. If they get around to defining virus, worm, Trojan and root kit then we'd really be onto something.

The ASC has also outlined common procedures for dispute resolution for vendors who believe their software has been unfairly flagged by an anti-spyware company as part of its efforts to make the practices of anti-spyware companies more transparent.The organisation is also offering consumers tips on how to stay clear of spyware infestation here. ®

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