Spyware...be careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater
Few online technologies push our outrage button as much as spyware does. I have used this term in many different ways over the years, starting with my condemnation of monitoring technologies as parental controls. Then as the technologies became better designed to allow advertisement targeting and delivery of pop-ups, my definition changed.
By then I was supporting the use of monitoring technologies in the workplace and, in some cases, in the home to help protect children. So the technologies I liked became "monitoring technologies" and the ones I didn't now became "spyware."
I didn't care if it was a clear consent, or if it supported the services I was using for free because of this support. I hated the thought of it. And didn't think much past the visceral reaction of being "spied" upon.
I deleted all services using "spyware." These included sidestep and weatherbug. I didn't care if there was a tangible value to having a company know what I was searching for and provide me with convenient information. I was ruthless. I used several different spyware removal applications and even did some awareness messaging in the media on how to remove them. I used the googol toolbar to block pop-ups.
More than spam, this was the scourge of cyberspace.
And then, while searching for reduced airfares, tiring of clicking on the sites I use, one after another, I reloaded sidestep. I clicked on the one button and twenty different fare choices appeared. I promised myself I would delete it right away, but didn't. I meant to, but found that it was convenient. Not all the time, but enough to outweigh my concerns.
Then, as the weather started changing, I downloaded weatherbug. I got it with yahoo messenger, which I was testing, and let it remain, while I deleted all the other applications that came along with yahoo's IM. I meant to remove it, but having the temperature on my desktop (even though my office outside door is ten steps from my desk) was convenient.
The more I thought about it, the more clear the issue became. It was pop-ups that I objected to. And some "adware" (when I like it it becomes adware, rather than spyware, which I still reserve for the ones I can't stand) I understood to be reliable, and the companies behind them trustworthy.
And, as a privacy professional that writes about policy, protection and consumers, it took me until now to decide that not all "spyware, monitoring, adware" applications were bad. But if it took me these many years to get to this position, how does Congress or state legislatures stand a chance?
No one has bothered to educate the consumers about convenience and the benefits of some of these applications and the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. Instead we all react viscerally to the thought of being "spied on." and we associate all of these applications with porn and multi-level marketing schemes. Those I will call "Pornware" and can find no legitimate reason for their not being regulated differently.
let's be careful not to throw out this entire new technology with the pornware water. Let's educate the consumers about some of the benefits of push-technologies. Let's trust them to tell government what they want and what the object to.
Maybe self-regulatory guidelines, rather than hard legislation is the better approach. And if it's too late for that, we should look hard and deep at the issue. Convenience, child protection, workplace risk management are valid reasons and should have valid applications to do their job, without being lumped together with the porn marketing abuses of the world.
my 2 cents.