Adware Kills People

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There’s new news in the struggle against spyware: The TRUSTe organization recently announced a new initiative directed at adware, called the Trusted Download Certification Program. By partnering with Yahoo!, AOL and others, TRUSTe aims to stamp out abusive adware practices, particularly the secretive installation of adware programs on users’ desktops.

In simplest terms, the certification program is a set of best-practice guidelines for adware software. Software meeting the guidelines will be added to a TRUSTe whitelist, which certification program partners (and presumably others) will use to decide whether to distribute software or deliver ads through particular platforms.

Although a few particularly egregious practices will prevent software certification outright (such as deceptively taking control of a user’s computer or preventing the un-installation of the software), in most cases the guidelines only require that potential software users be given certain notices before installation of the adware.
In TRUSTe’s and its partners’ opinion, “technology itself is neither good nor bad.” Only the practices that have been used by some companies to secretly distribute, install, and monitor computers users with adware warrant those value judgments and should be curbed.

As long as computer users are given notices, approved by TRUSTe, before installing adware, the software is deemed benign.
TRUSTe’s view is a variation of the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” mantra, adjusted for software. In TRUSTe’s opinion, adware doesn’t annoy people or invade their privacy or impede the performance of their computers, only malicious adware distributors do those things. But guns do kill people. And adware, no matter what notices come with installation, is annoying, invasive and performance sapping.

Unfortunately, the effect of TRUSTe’s program, if it takes off, is likely to be analogous to that of another oft-criticized attempt to curb Internet marketing abuse: the CAN-SPAM Act. The CAN-SPAM Act is also about giving consumers notice. Provided email marketing is sent with notice of its source and a method for removal from the email list, it is acceptable under the Act. Instead of curbing spam, the CAN-SPAM Act legitimized it. The result, of course, has been exponential growth in spam in computer users’ inboxes. The Act has failed, however, to address the real issue: Internet users’ inundation with spam.

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