Spyware and Adware

The new issue of Release 1.0 deals with Spyware and Adware. Esther Dyson writes:

This issue of Release 1.0 covers spyware – a serious Net-hygiene problem that is replacing spam as the scourge of the year – and its counterpart, adware. The mechanism to address it is similar: an accountable Net of consumer awareness, authentication mechanisms and branding of ads and their sources, and legislation to define the rules even if it is primarily the market that will enforce them. We believe that these mechanisms are beginning to work: The increasing visibility of the problems is accompanied by the increased transparency (and accountability) that will lead to a healthier market and a healthier Net. But this transition is a reminder of just how messy peer-to-peer regulation can be.

There are many similarities between spam and spyware. In each sphere, there’s a range of behavior, from direct mail to spam and phishing, and from adware to spyware and malware – and disagreements on which is which, depending in part on individual preferences. With proper disclosure and technology mechanisms just now coming into play, most individuals will be able to choose what they want. We limn these developments below and then profile four leading players in the space.

Also in each sphere, there’s an important baby in the bathwater. In the case of e-mail and spam, the baby is the e-mail infrastructure that supports one-to-one (and occasionally -to-many) communication and a profusion of powerful capabilities and applications dependent on mail, to say nothing of individuals’ freedom of speech. In the case of adware and spyware, the baby comprises a useful mechanism (advertising) for supporting various kinds of free content and software, along with behavioral profiling that lets a user get content relevant to (and occasionally competing with) what he is looking at and lets advertisers target their ads both to get higher returns and to avoid annoying consumers for whom the ads aren’t relevant. This second group of benefits may not have quite the ring of individuals’ freedom of speech, but at its best it includes the notion of individual empowerment and is a fundamental part of the efficient economy promised by the Net.

Fred Wilson adds: “We need rules, tools, and systems to determine who is doing it right and who is not. Putting software on my machine that I don’t know about, can’t get rid of, that impacts the performance of my computer is bad. That must be stopped and it will be stopped. Amazon watching what I purchase and using that data to make additional purchase recommendations is good and must be allowed to continue. It’s what happens in between those two extremes that is the essence of the debate. ”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.