Dubious Practices

By Michael Myser  |  Posted 2005-04-28 Print this article Print

Richard Stiennon, vice president of threat research at Webroot Software Inc. in Boulder, Colo., and a former security analyst, said he isnt buying it. He said KeenValue is on the anti-spyware companys most-current list of the top 10 spyware threats, and shutting it down doesnt clear Intermix of wrongdoing. "If you could avoid prosecution by changing ownership and stopping practices, then Enron would still be a very viable business, and Bernie Ebbers wouldnt be facing jail time," Stiennon said. Spyware researcher Howes said the allegations have little to do with the spyware activity Intermix references, and said that is an argument commonly used by adware vendors to distinguish them from truly malicious code. And Yankees Slaby said the company had ample time to negotiate with Spitzer and was unable to come to an agreement.
"Despite what the adware industry would have you believe, the key issue isnt just data collection and transmission," Howes said. "The attorney general has blown right past the spyware versus adware distinction by focusing on a broad range of deceptive and objectionable practices."
According to analysts, thats where the case could get interesting. "The line between protected trade and business practices of dubious nature is less than clear-cut," Slaby said. "Where do you draw that line between legitimate advertising and criminal activity?" In addition to pointing out Spitzers penchant for headline-grabbing moves, Gartner Inc. research director Rich Mogull said the attorney general may only be trying to get some distinction between the two in court. "Intermix may be in that gray area," Mogull said. "It kind of surprises me that they were picked on before some of the really nasty stuff. I wouldnt be surprised if this case falls apart, but what this might do is give us some clarification and force them to change their practices." Webroots Stiennon disagreed: "Hes picked a target that uses not-so-nice techniques for installing adware. I dont think its a gray area at all. I think Spitzers on pretty safe ground there." But all agreed that its an incredibly important development for consumers and enterprises. "Theyll get their day in court, and well follow this one very carefully," Slaby said. "Theres a lot at stake here." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.


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