Problems of Spyware

The Economist takes a look at the situation with spyware and makes some recommendations as to how to fix it.

Moreover, some companies that oppose spyware also happen to profit from it. For example, Dell, a computer-maker, has complained that spyware is the main reason for customer calls to its technical support lines. This hurts its brand. In Britain, however, the company has become a customer of Claria, and its ads pop up when users visit the websites of rival firms such as IBM. And in May, Yahoo!, a web portal, released a browser add-on that can block pop-up ads, even though Overture, its ad-placement unit, is responsible for 31% of Claria's revenue.

The analogy with spam is informative. If legislators had acted sooner, it might have been possible to prevent spam from spiralling out of control. Does that suggest that legislation against spyware will also prove ineffective? Not necessarily, because the people behind spyware are a centralised and traceable group of companies, unlike spammers. Lawmakers have an opportunity to nip spyware in the bud, and help to ensure the integrity of the internet. They should take it.

Spyware is one of those things that we would like to see a market solution for, but it may not happen. It is something that companies use because it works, even though they don't care for it. If The Economist is recommending legislation to deal with this issue, it must be a serious one.