Academic institutions and tech companies have teamed up to fight spyware with a new name and shame initiative. StopBadware.org, launched today by the Harvard University's Berkman Centre and the Oxford Internet Institute, aims to establish a neighborhood watch-style scheme that will put pressure on purveyors of unsavoury programs that snoop on consumer's net habits.
The project is supported by Google, Sun, and Lenovo. Consumer Reports WebWatch, a grant-funded project of the Consumers Union, is taking a pro-bono role as special consumer adviser.
The project has created a website, www.StopBadware.org, where net users can check to see if programs they encounter are potentially damaging or benign. StopBadware.org hopes to educate consumers and software developers as well as shining a light on firms that make millions using sneaky pop-ups and tracking software to spy on users' surfing habits or, in the worst cases, steal their personal information, such as credit card or Social Security numbers.
StopBadware.org will publish "user-friendly" reports on downloads it has identified as badware, as well as more detailed academic studies on the problem of malicious code. It will solicit and publish horror stories from net users adversely affected by badware (malware).
The project is directed and advised by a clutch of net luminaries such as John Palfrey of the Harvard University Berkman Centre for Internet & Society, Jonathan Zittrain of Oxford's Internet University, Vint Cerf and Esther Dyson.
According to a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 59m American adults have malware on their PC. Malware-related problems prompted computer users to spend roughly $3.5bn in 2003 and 2004 on replacing or repairing hardware, Consumer Reports WebWatch calculates. Leaving aside the argument that such replacements are rarely necessary, spyware programs clearly create a huge nuisance.
"Badware and its nastiest effects - violation of privacy, identity theft, and computer hijacking - hit consumers without warning," says Beau Brendler, director of Consumer Reports WebWatch. "WebWatch research shows these and other threats are turning almost a third of US Internet users away from the web. We believe StopBadware.org is a great way to fight back." ®