The Federal Trade Commission has made an effort to crack down on spyware purveyors, and though its intentions may be noble, it's had very little overall effect on the problem. It's said in the past that it wants to be able to put spyware distributors in jail, and while that sounds fine, stiffer penalties won't help solve the bigger underlying problems in this area, such as the lack of a clear definition of spyware. With this in mind, some members of Congress have taken on the issue over the years, and in March, an anti-spyware bill was passed by the House. Now, the House has approved a second anti-spyware bill, one that's raised the hackles of internet companies and advertisers. They say that it would put an unnecessary burden on legitimate web site owners who have nothing to do with spyware, because it's so broadly worded that it would cover cookies used by many sites for legitimate purposes. The act would require sites to use some sort of pop-up notification if they transmit personal information without the user's knowledge, surreptitiously install software, or "commit other federal crimes such as identity theft." It seems rather unlikely that identity thieves would bother to put up a message telling users they need to click "OK" to become the victim of fraud, since, after all, identity theft is already generally illegal. But perhaps the bigger problem is that if so many sites start displaying these warnings, people will just ignore them -- just as they do with the clickwrap EULAs companies like Zango already use. Given the Senate's reluctance over the years to pass any of these laws, it seems unlikely that this bill, or the one the House passed in March will go further, and while spyware may be a hot-button issue, that's probably a good thing. It's hard to see these bills having much positive effect on the problem, and could end up making things worse in many ways by giving spyware purveyors a way to make what they do "legal".
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