• United States
Senior Editor, Network World

Universities ready spyware hall of shame

Jan 30, 20064 mins

Harvard University and Oxford University are teaming with Consumer Reports to launch a Web site called, which will be an online hall of shame for those trafficking in spyware or questionable forms of adware.

Decisions about which individuals, vendors and businesses will be singled out for criticism and discussion for propagating and promoting “badware” will fall to the organizers of the effort, operating together as The Stop Badware Coalition.

Co-director of the coalition John Palfrey is professor of Internet law at Harvard as well as executive director at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

He says he expects the Web site to act like a neighborhood watch by highlighting criminal spyware programs and their use. It will also point out adware that – while not illegal – could be “unscrupulous,” Palfrey says.

The Stop Badware Coalition expects to make its first posting naming badware in about a month.

Palfrey says the primary goal of The Stop Badware Coalition and its Web site is to illuminate the workings of spyware and the worst forms of adware so it “will no longer be allowed to hide in the shadows of the Internet. We want to help put some definitions on this.”

The affect the coalition wants to have is to “allow consumers to take a stand,” Palfrey says.

The coalition has an international thrust through the participation of Oxford’s Internet Institute. Jonathan Zittrain, co-director of and professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford, says the time has come to help people know “what they’re getting when they encounter code.”

One underlying concern about badware, the coalition’s organizers agree, is that people are retreating from using the Web as their worry about spyware and adware grows.

Funding for the project is coming from Google, Lenovo and Sun, which have provided “multiyear, multimillions” in sponsorship, Palfrey says.

The coalition’s advisory board will include individuals such as Ari Schwartz of the Washington, D.C., advocacy group Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), which has been active in investigating spyware and adware. Much of the research work that will be posted on the Web site will be done by university researchers.

When asked if The Stop Badware Coalition is prepared for legal challenges from those who may object to being listed on the site, or for Internet-based attacks from spyware developers, Palfrey says these wouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise. “That could happen,” he says.

But he adds that he’s confident the basic research on the material to be published at will hold up to scrutiny and provide a valuable public service.

Adware complaints

Separately last week, the CDT filed two lengthy legal complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the FTC to investigate advertising software developer 180solutions and affiliate CJB.NET for unfair and deceptive practices.

The first complaint alleges that the core business model of 180solutions “depends on third-party affiliates committing unfair and deceptive practices on the company’s behalf.” At the heart of the complaint is the assertion that a 180solutions product called Zango is continually being installed without users’ consent or through deceptive means.

CDT spokesman David McGuire says the group had conducted discussions with 180solutions over the past two years about these concerns, but felt an impasse had been reached that compelled it to file the two complaints. The FTC has acted on similar complaints in the past by opening investigations.

180solutions spokesman Sean Sundwall says the firm has not yet reviewed the CDT filing with the FTC, but emphasizes that “180solutions and CDT share the same vision of protecting the rights and privacies of consumers on the Internet.”