"One of the biggest problems with spyware so far has been how to define it," said David McGuire, communications director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, which has led the Anti-Spyware Coalition (ASC). "It's hard to fix a problem you can't define."
The coalition defines spyware and "other potentially unwanted technologies" as those that impair users' control over: material changes that affect their user experience, privacy, or system security; use of their system resources, including what programs are installed on their computers; or collection, use, and distribution of their personal information.
ASC members include Microsoft, AOL, Earthlink, Symantec, Trend Micro, McAfee, Webroot Software, and the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at the Boalt Hall School of Law, UC Berkeley.
The group hopes that its definition will become an industry standard, McGuire said. The lack of a spyware definition has not only made it hard to fight the troublesome software but has led to situations where companies do not understand why their programs are flagged as spyware by security companies, he added.
To that end, the ASC also has developed a dispute resolution process for companies that believe their software has been unfairly flagged as spyware, McGuire said.
The ASC also drafted a glossary for terms associated with unwanted programs, such as adware and "screen scraper," plus a list of tips to help users protect themselves from spwyare.
The coalition is inviting public input on the draft definition through Aug. 12. For information on how to comment see www.antispywarecoalition.org
Earlier this year, SC Magazine reported on the industry's struggles due to the lack of a definition of spyware.