“Not Spyware” Classification For Sale

Lee Bennett writes:

My dear AWS Convergence Technologies, Inc. friends, it is you who are mistaken. Unless you’ve grown a conscience for the more recent versions, I know people who’ve actively tracked WeatherBug sending unnecessary data to remote servers.

His blog entry was inspired by the eWeek story “WeatherBug Miffed at Microsofté─˘s Spyware Classification”, which details a company (that happens to have a lot of lawyers) that now has a beef with Microsoft, whose recent beta release of its upcoming anti-spyware application (which Microsoft, in turn, acquired with the rest of Giant) labels WeatherBug as “adware.”

Which is true.

But WeatherBug’s parent company, AWS, has taken issue with this, as you might expect. The twist here is that AWS has AOL on their side, since WeatherBug ships with the PC version of AOL Instant Messenger. AWS — and AOL — are now pressuring Microsoft to change their anti-spyware software so as not to flag WeatherBug. An AOL official is even quoted as saying, “The vast majority of anti-spyware providers do not consider WeatherBug to be spyware, including Aluria, our own anti-spyware provider.”

Uh, duh. Of course AOL’s anti-spyware product isn’t going to flag another AOL product (or in this case, sort of a “brand partner”) as spyware.

And pretty soon, it appears, neither will Microsoft’s.

This raises a disturbing issue: at what price can the “this software is safe” label be bought? How many lawyers does it take to designate a rank, festering spyware application “perfectly-safe-to-run-this-on-your-grandma’s-computer”-ware? I realise that the vast majority of true problem apps are written by shady organisations without crack legal teams, but this sets a disturbing precedent. Why, now, should anyone trust any spyware removal tool from a large corporation? Who’s to say it isn’t intentionally overlooking its own spyware, or its partners’ spyware?

Furthermore, in light of various recent and not-so-recent high-profile hacks of various consumer databases, I don’t trust anyone, whether they’re “legitimately” collecting the data or not, to keep personal information about me secure. And by God, I will do everything I can to prevent any entity that doesn’t need data about me — this includes you, AMS — from getting it.

This whole mess also makes me very glad that, for the sake of my PC-using friends out there, there are reasonably independent third-party vendors of software for finding and removing spyware.

posted by Chris on 07 January 2005 at 2256 in computing

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