Spyware Legislation?

Dave and I attended the FTC Spyware Conference on April 19, 2004. With our latest survey information under our arms, we had hoped we could influence future spyware legislation. It was a learning experience and here is some of what we learned.

Spyware is a serious and growing problem. McAfee showed the disturbing monthly trend. Each month a little worse than the previous. Microsoft noted that 50% of documented system crashes were due to spyware. Dell said that 12% of their technical support call volume was attributable to spyware.

But there’s not much happening. It was totally nauseating to listen to panel member and panel member caution against broad spyware legislation. It became clear that there are many business interests that run contrary to that of normal computer users. To make matters worse, the FTC’s attitude is that the industry must do a better job of policing itself.

There is a vocal minority. There was a bright spot. The last panel had Jennifer Baird representing US representative Mary Bono, and Stephen Urquhart from the Utah House of Representative. Mr. Urquhart has passed legislation in the state of Utah that bans spyware and contextual popup advertising. Some have argued that the Utah legislation is overly broad. In fact, WhenU (a spyware maker!) brazenly sued the state of Utah. Mr. Urquhart should be applauded because he is taking action, and action is what is sorely needed.

The bad news is that the solution to spyware is not on the horizon. But we, at PC Pitstop, are more determined than ever. I believe that our research is the key to break the logjam. Thanks to all the users that have responded to our surveys. Your voices will be heard!

The research is clear, Gator and WhenU are installing onto people’s PC without their knowledge. Between 75-85% of Gator/WhenU users do not know the software is running on their PC. That’s outrageous. People can’t uninstall software that they don’t know is running on their PC. People cannot be legally bound by a license agreement installed without their knowledge.

Here’s the key revelation. Spyware is a misnomer. It’s not that the software is tracking your behavior, it’s the fact that it installed without your knowledge. This is the illegal activity in which we must focus.

It’s going to be a long hard road, but ultimately we must put an end to software that installs without the user’s knowledge. We’re in the fight for the long haul.

Rob Cheng
CEO PC Pitstop LLC

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