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Spyware flap looks headed for court

By , Network World
April 04, 2005 12:05 AM ET

Network World - A legal showdown is brewing between anti-spyware vendors and adware marketing companies that contend their software has been unfairly targeted for detection and deletion. In between the combatants stand IT professionals and consumers who only want relief from what they say has become a growing blight upon corporate desktops and home PCs.

Claria, formerly known as The Gator Company, recently complained to Computer Associates because CA's PestPatrol anti-spyware software detects and deletes Claria's Gain ad-targeting software, including Gator eWallet. After reviewing Claria's complaint, CA last week eliminated from its product the ability to detect Claria adware. By late Friday, however, CA had determined that all eight of Claria's products violate user privacy and security in some form and added detection for them back into PestPatrol.

"We're trying to be objective in the reasons a vendor is included as spyware," says Tori Case, director of eTrust security management at CA. The criteria for spyware are based on the privacy, security and performance impact that code has on computers and networks, she says. Suspending detection of the Claria adware during the formal appeals process is standard procedure, Case says, adding CA was disclosing the situation for the sake of "transparency" to customers and the rest of the industry. Yahoo's anti-spyware service is based on the PestPatrol product.

For its part, Claria said in a statement: "We have initiated a dialogue with Computer Associates about what we believe to be issues in the way their PestPatrol product informs consumers about Gain software on consumers' desktops."

Other adware marketing firms also are vehemently objecting to being classified as spyware and are fighting to be removed from the target lists of anti-spyware software. As the disputes gain steam, lawyers on both sides are getting ready to rumble.

A company called 180solutions makes search-assistance software called Zango that shows ads to users. Within the past month, the company sent letters to several anti-spyware vendors demanding that they drop 180solutions from their spyware databases.

180solutions, a privately held company that recovered from near-bankruptcy a few years ago to claim $50 million in revenue and 250 employees at the end of last year, is telling the anti-spyware vendors, including Sunbelt Software, Webroot Software, Aluria, InterMute and Microsoft, to back down.

"They make money removing applications such as ours," says Todd Sawicki, senior director of marketing at 180solutions. "They're making false representation about us as a business. What we don't like is they're making egregious, overwrought statements. They're scaring users. We want them to know we're safe and we represent no threat."

Security experts criticize adware because it typically works by tracking users' Web activity, an action regarded as a compromise to privacy. In addition, multiple types of adware crowding onto a machine can cause slowdowns and even crashes.

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