COAST launched in October of 2003 by Webroot Software, Aluria Software, and PestPatrol (acquired last year by Computer Associates) with the goals of increasing awareness of the spyware problem, standardizing industry terminology, and creating an industry code of ethics.
Webroot and Aluria withdrew their memberships on Friday and Computer Associates followed suit on Monday, leaving only three members, NoAdware.net, New.Net, and WeatherBug, according to the membership list on COAST web site.
"As a founding member of COAST, Aluria has consistently tried to move the organzation into the direction of defining a clear and comprehensive set of spyware standards and code of ethics by which all software developers should abide," Jamie Garrison, Aluria chief executive, said in a statement. "Despite our best efforts, however, COAST was slow moving in setting standards."
Webroot officials said they did not agree with the direction COAST is moving. In a statement, they said the company was not "comfortable with the idea of COAST as a certification body or as a marketing tool for member companies."
Richard Stiennon, vice president of threat research at Webroot, confirmed in an interview that COAST's decision to allow membership to 180solutions, a web search marketing firm, was a major factor in the departures. Developers were allowed to join COAST as long as they complied with a set of best practices, he said.
"It was turning into a certifying body. That wasn't our intent when we orginally helped form COAST. It would help set standards and guidelines, but not be an extension of a marketing effort for an adware company." Stiennon said.
Other firms were in line for membership, aiming to "correct an image that they were adware," he added. "They tried to use it as one way to identify with the good guys in the battle against spyware."
Sam Curry, vice president of eTrust security management at CA, said in an interview that COAST had succeeded in creating consensus around ethics for the anti-spyware industry, and that it was unfortunate some vendors had decided to pull out.
"It's a sad day, but we feel it's gotten to a point where it's [COAST] not a viable place to have consensus building," he said. "It's a shame some people pulled out. There's nothing really left."
All three companies said they would participate in other standards efforts.