Anti-Spyware Group Falls Apart

Matt O'Conner
ISLANDIA, N.Y. – Computer Associates International, maker of eTrust Pest Patrol Anti-Spyware software, has withdrawn from the Consortium of Anti-Spyware Technology Vendors, citing a lack of confidence in COAST’s ability to reach consensus on major issues — and sounding what many believe to be the group’s death knell.

California Associate’s resignation comes just three days after COAST’s two other founding members, Webroot Software and Aluria Software, pulled out in protest over the admission of Bellview, Wash.-based 180solutions, a company that has been accused of installing its software on users’ PCs without their permission — one of the practices COAST was founded to stamp out.

“COAST has done an about-face, starting to allow and entertain requests for so-called adware companies to join,” said Richard Stiennon, vice president of threat research at Webroot, in a prepared statement last week.

COAST was launched in late 2003 after security software makers came together to coordinate research and educational efforts on spyware, with an eye toward setting industry-wide standards that would effectively prohibit the use of software that gathers and transmits information about users without their knowledge.

By admitting companies like 180solutions, the group undermines its own legitimacy and runs the risk of becoming a marketing tool for adware companies, said Rick Carlson, president of Orlando, Fla.-based Aluria.

“There were a lot of companies that saw marketing value in being members of COAST,” said Carlson. “The adware profiteers would like to be involved.”

“Webroot’s goal,” added Stiennon, is “diametrically opposed to companies that want to install software on your computer that uses up your computer’s resources and sometimes have sloppy or damaging practices all in the purpose of serving up ads, which they get paid for and you don’t.”

Stiennon’s comments highlight long-running disagreement within the software industry about where the line between software and adware is drawn and, on an even more elemental level, what qualifies as spyware.

“Good luck defining it,” Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, told XBiz. “No one wants to make a stand on that issue because they don’t want to take on the adware companies.”

Dixon said adware companies have hidden behind shifting definitions to avoid punishment for bad practices, reminiscent of when then-President Bill Clinton responded, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” when asked by federal prosecutors if he’d previously lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.