Spyware, adware, trackware and all the other parasites on the web have been around as long as free downloads have been. I remember when I first started writing the Downloads of the Week articles Steve told me that I needed to pay careful attention to the Privacy agreements. He wanted to make absolute sure that we weren’t suggesting that people invite malicious code into their PC’s. Privacy agreements are only one of a number of procedures I perform on a potential new download because I don’t trust them. I run anti-spyware/virus, I also use unsecured and outdated browsers to see if there’s any spyware bound to the download or site waiting to be attached to my system. It’s what I call a baited ambush.
Basically there are a lot of really bad things going on behind the scenes with some programs and it’s been getting really bad lately. Between companies exploiting their users to protect their products, and software writers that make free software that once installed attacks you, sends you pop-ups, or what ever else it’s designed to do. How does the average end-user stay unaffected by this adware yet still enjoy the “Good” software? You have to hunt and read sifting through the devious applications, it’s a full time job, believe me I know. There’s a lot of junk out there that sounds really good in its descriptions, complete with Website awards and bogus pristine user reviews.
I have always thought that there should be tougher restrictions in place to stop the install of deceptive software from installing so easily on end-users systems. Standards that are written in a way that program writers can’t simply side step them with some clever loophole that they had found in the incomplete laws as they have been doing. A set of standards that when met would get a seal of approval that the end-users can easily identify and know that what they are installing is safe and no intrusive.
Well I think that ball has started to roll and I personally want to thank Sony. They aren’t the first company to be surreptitiously installing software to their customers PC’s but they did it the best. If you remember from my article on the subject last week, Sony Installed a DRM (Digital Rights Manager) with a number of their audio CD’s that installed a Rootkits anyone’s PC who agreed to the Privacy Statement that made no mention to the Rootkits installation. This rootkit was almost impossible to uninstall, would cripple your optical drives if you did, made the system unstable, and created huge security holes for future hackers. After all of this Sony still insisted that they didn’t do anything wrong and that they were well within their legal boundaries to secretly install software to protect their product at the expense of their customers.
I believe this was the stone that started the avalanche of new legislation coming down on adware and the new “Trusted Download Program” from TRUSTe that is being backed by some of the biggest names on the Internet.
This certification program should launch in beta in early 2006 and if all works well this will add another layer of protection for customers. The affects of this will mean better relationships between websites and their customers while at the same time creating incentives for software manufacturers to create “better” applications. Maybe with the right support and more companies jumping onboard with the certification program the summit of the spyware invasion will pass leaving a safer more enjoyable Internet in it’s wake.