TechTalk & Personal Computing Guide


TechTalk & Personal Computing Guide
TechTalk & Personal Computing Guide

Adware makers threaten critics

cdesai12 Goldie

Joined: 18 September 2004
Posts: 1900

Posted: 26 February 2005 at 11:25am | IP Logged
Adware makers threaten critics

By Brian Livingston

It's bad enough that adware, which can have negative effects on our PCs, has already infected an astonishing number of machines — 80% in one U.S. . Now, on top of everything else, adware makers are pressuring anti-adware advocates to stop listing their programs as candidates for removal.

In the newest development, has sent cease-and-desist letters to several anti-adware sites. Some of the Webmasters I've spoken with say they received the letters on Feb. 15 or 16. Sites that have confirmed to me that they've received the letters include , , , and , the maker of the CounterSpy adware removal program.

The letters, copies of which have been sent to me by some of the recipients, object to the descriptions of iSearch on these sites and demand that the references be removed.

One iDownload letter, from attorney Mark D. Hopkins, a partner in the Austin, Texas, office of Savrick Schumann Johnson McGarr Kaminsky & Shirley, says in part:
  • "Specifically, a recent review of materials disseminated by your company, via the Internet, revealed that your company is falsely disparaging iDowload's [sic] product, iSearch...

    "As we all know, Malware is a phrase within the public conscience [He means 'consciousness.' —Ed.] that has a specific meaning. ...

    "Continuing, unlike Malware, iSearch does not gather any personally identifiable information about end users, does not collect data about the user's web usage, does not collect any information entered into web forms, does not share information with third parties, does not send or cause to be sent unsolicited e-mail, and does not install items such as dialers on the end user's computer. ...

    "To the extent you fail to remedy your improper disparagement of the iDownload brand on or before February 15, 2005, we will take all necessary action against your company to protect iDownload from your continuing tortuous conduct [He means 'tortious' or injurious conduct. —Ed.]."
Why adware is bad

At this point in our story, I'd like to stop for a moment. Let's be clear why I prefer to use the term "adware," not "spyware," for the class of products we're talking about.

As I wrote in the newsletter, adware doesn't need to "phone home" in order to slow down a PC, conflict with other software, or pose security risks. For this reason, I believe it's pointless to try to divide adware into subcategories, such as "malware" and "spyware."

I define adware as: A secondary computer program (1) that is installed as a result of a person using a primary, sought-out program or Web site, or the Internet in general, and (2) that generates revenue or other benefits for the promoter of the secondary program.

It's the "revenue or other benefits" part that causes problems for PC users. A secondary program — one that users didn't seek out — can only generate benefits for its promoter if the secondary program becomes installed. Such programs, therefore, have no financial incentive to tell users about potential downsides.

These programs have a powerful financial incentive to disclose only possible benefits — or to not say anything at all before installing — in order to run on as many machines as possible. Such programs, therefore, can never be said to have gained fully informed consent from computer users.

Please note that the above definition of adware doesn't cover a legitimate category of programs: "ad-supported software." This includes the free Opera browser, which displays ads within its window, or Google ads, which are also displayed within the primary window. Only when such ads become divorced from the primary program is there a breakdown of responsibility. This disconnect leads to a high potential for PC users' machines to be slowed down or exposed to other risks.

If I thought "spyware" was a meaningful term, I'd use it regardless of any legal threats. But it's a vague and imprecise term, and I urge the computer industry to abandon it.

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