2005 Archive

Samuelson Clinic Helps Tackle the Spyware Mess

We've all heard of spyware and how it has infected tens of millions of personal and workplace computers worldwide. But few people except dyed-in-the-silicon techies can tell you exactly what spyware is, much less what to do about it. Now, a new coalition of Internet service providers, software and hardware firms, computer security experts and digital public policy specialists, including Boalt Hall's Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, have unveiled a new set of tools designed to dispel the spyware mystery.

The Anti-Spyware Coalition today released a draft definition of spyware and a companion glossary as a first step to helping consumers, interested industry parties, regulators and lawmakers tackle the problem. The coalition defines spyware broadly as technologies that impair users' control over their own computers. (Read the complete draft in PDF form here). Spyware's effects range from the annoying, such as serious slowdowns in PC performance, to the ominous, such as theft of sensitive personal information.

"Spyware, in its broad sense, is a complicated problem for consumers and industry because it includes a range of activities from the clearly malicious to the potentially legitimate," Professor Deirdre Mulligan, director of the Samuelson Clinic, said in a statement. "While regulation can help in weeding out the obviously bad actors, there remains a substantial "gray area" that requires the development of best practices, educating consumers, and developing good user interfaces for these tasks." She added that the coalition's "common language and definitions" for spyware "will serve as a foundation for consumers and companies to communicate effectively with one another and for the development of good law and policy."

The Anti-Spyware Coalition is taking comments on its draft definition through August 12.