Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Senate Takes on Spyware

The Senate subcommittee on Trade, Tourism, and Economic Development will tackle the subject of Spyware in a hearing scheduled for 2:30 this afternoon. The hearing is available on the internet via a Live Webcast starting at 2:30 EDT (GMT-4).

Spyware and its close relative Adware is rapidly overtaking e-mail spam as the greatest plague infecting the online experience. In their worst forms, both spyware and adware are extremely intrusive. Some websites drop adware on your PC which then randomly opens pop-up boxes regardless of what software you're using.

Most top of the line anti-virus software includes spyware and adware protection, but it's not always 100% effective. Microsoft now offers a free anti-spyware download that seems to do a pretty good job at combating the scourge. How effective remains to be seen, since Microsoft is now partnered with software companies that routinely include spyware.

So now the issue is coming up in the Senate. The only question is, what can they really do about it? Passing anti-spyware legislation may prove extremely difficult to enforce since many internet sites are hosted overseas. While I believe it should certainly be illegal to download software to a person's computer without their consent, I'm not sure how one would enforce it. Besides, getting a person's consent is as easy as clicking "I agree" on a disclaimer or license agreement. When was the last time you read through the entire license agreement before downloading freeware or installing an ActiveX component?

I wish I had an easy solution to the problem, but I don't. Spam, viruses, adware, and spyware have effectively taken over the internet. It's doubtful that any of them can be effectively prevented, and I'm certain they cannot be outlawed. Perhaps the best we can do is continue to build a better mousetrap. Addressing the problem on an individual bases by running software to keep our own computers clean may be the real solution. While I'm pleased to see the Senate looking into this issue, I think they're wasting their time. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that will be solved through legislation.


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