Posted: 26 February 2005 at 11:25am | IP Logged
Adware makers threaten critics
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
In the newest development, iDownload.com 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.
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
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:
Why adware is bad
- "Specifically, a recent
review of materials disseminated by your company, via the Internet, revealed
that your company is falsely disparaging iDowload's [sic] product,
"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
"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.]."
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
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.
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.