Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Is Legislation Ever Going to Address Spyware!!!

The House has finally passed a bill against Spyware that may contain some much needed help against those who write it. Since it’s only passed the house it’s not a law yet but the Senate seems ready to address the issue and should pass something similar this year.

This bill contains some real punishments for Spyware writers with prison sentences of up to 2 years and fines of up to 3 million dollars per violation. And if you use Spyware to perform other acts like identity theft you could have up to 5 additional years added to your sentence. I’m not sure that 2 years in prison is enough but 3 million dollars in fines is a pretty good deterrent.

So if the Senate passes something that is close a bill of some kind could become law this year. It’s hard to believe that something hasn’t managed to get passed with all the pressure being put on to do something about Spyware.

This is one of many times that Congresses and the Senate are definitely responding to slowly on a matter of great importance to protect our technology infrastructure. It seems that they continue to fail to understand the need to protect our technology base from the many existing threats that could destroy it.

However, I predict that unless it's more effective than the can spam act it will have little impact on Spyware. But we can hope that it helps and any legislation is better than none in this matter. So while it remains to be seen just how it will play out anything that may reduce Spyware and make our on line computing safer needs to be done. Just don't hold your breath while you wait for this law to help.

The first problem is that even amount the savviest users no clear definition of what Spyware is has been agreed too. That makes it hard to outlaw something if it can't even be defined by those who will be charged with helping enforce this legislation. Even among the companies that are producing anti-Spyware software you will see that there is little agreement as to what should be considered as Spyware.

Different Spyware programs will find may differences in what they consider safe while all fall short of detecting everything that is truly Spyware. This is something that must change or Spyware will always be with us.

Some of these anti-Spyware programs even contain Spyware themselves. This is the ultimate insult for users who use these programs hoping to solve their Spyware problems. They end up introducing Spyware on their systems while trying to prevent it.

The thugs that promote such fraud should be the first ones dealt with and it should be a hard, swift, punishment. The bill defines such actions as changing your start page, capturing private user information, or changing system files and settings as constituting Spyware. I’m sure that all of these specific actions can be agreed upon as improper functions unless allowed by a fully informed user.

Second; while most Spyware practices are already illegal (under deceptive-business laws) only two Spyware companies have been sued so far. We just aren’t using these laws to bring to justice those who are violating basic business law as it is already written. That means more laws aren’t going to help until we start applying the laws that we already have on the books.

Third; it’s the computer users themselves that cause a lot of the problem. By using available software to clean and protect their systems a user can stop all but the most insidious forms of Spyware now. Yet many users fail to do just that. I still find people and companies that aren’t even using a firewall for gosh sakes.

Worse yet users continue to use programs that contain Spyware willingly and with little regard as to its effect on their systems. That little chance that anything will be solved by laws until users wake up and do a better job of checking out the programs that they install and run on their system. Remember Gator (The Gator Corporation is now Claria Corporation), Gator eWallet, and Bonzi buddy are still out there and still being used on a lot of computer systems even though they are known offenders.

It seems that some users don’t care what the software does as long as they like the features that it provides. That is unfortunate since all of these programs can be replaced by programs that do the same functions while offering features as good or better just minus the Spyware. And fourth; even major companies are using programs that are for all intents and purposes Spyware. It's time that companies that should know better quit using these methods to spy on their customers. Many of the methods of registration and digital rights protection currently being used are just fancy Spyware programs as far as I’m concerned.

Spyware isn’t right for any reason and our technological infrastructure must find a way to provide protection with out infringing on the rights of the user. It's like trying to understand why Yahoo and Google are still using popup screens and ads in certain locations while offering popup blocking software that blocks these very types of ads. It seems the height of gall to get people to pay to have popup ads only to have them blocked by the very companies that they have been paying to run the ads.

Well that’s a matter for another article. Stay tuned and soon we will look at the dark side of popup ads and the blockers that are used to stop them.

You may see a good article on the subject at http://ct.enews.eweek.com/rd/cts?d=186-2059-2-79-357217-233724-0-0-0-1

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