WeatherBug Miffed at Microsofts Spyware Classification

Microsoft's new anti-spyware tool mistakenly flags a component of the WeatherBug application as a privacy threat to Windows users.

Microsoft Corp.s newly released anti-spyware is flagging a component of AWS Convergence Technologies WeatherBug application as a threat to Windows users, prompting an immediate complaint from the Gaithersburg, Md.-based company.

WeatherBug, which ships with America Online Inc.s instant messaging application, fetches temperature and weather-related content for users, but because it tracks a users geographic location to personalize the data, Microsofts spyware application is classifying it as a potential privacy risk.

The "Minibug" component, which is the ad-serving component of WeatherBug, was classified as low-risk, and the Microsoft Spyware default is set to ignore it.

However, officials at AOL and WeatherBug did not take too kindly to the classification. "The vast majority of anti-spyware providers do not consider WeatherBug to be spyware, including Aluria, our own anti-spyware provider," said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein.

Weinstein told that the company "disagrees" with the Microsoft classification, adding that AOL is pleased with the progress of its partnership with WeatherBug.

WeatherBug ships with AIM versions 5.5 and later and is an optional, prechecked download within the IM client.

On Thursday, when WeatherBug caught wind of the spyware classification, chief privacy officer Dan OConnell said the company initiated discussions with Microsoft to get it fixed.

"Its highly problematic when a brand with the reach of Microsoft has this kind of misidentification. Its an inaccurate classification, and were very anxious to work with them to fix it," OConnell said in an interview.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about Microsofts anti-spyware beta.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the beta product included a vendor dispute-resolution mechanism to deal with complaints from third-party companies.

In the case of WeatherBug, the dispute-resolution process paid immediate dividends. On Friday, the company received a response from Microsoft with the good news that the current signatures for Minibug will be removed.

"The next update to the signature library will take place shortly. Users that subscribe to Auto Update will automatically get the update to the signature library," Microsoft said in the e-mail. "Please note that this decision is based upon the characteristics of the program we analyzed and our signature criteria as of the date of the analysis, and is subject to change if alterations are made to your program or as our signature criteria evolves."

WeatherBug officials said the Microsoft misidentification was especially problematic because of the wide reach of Microsofts distribution and the fact that nontechnical users would have a negative perception of the WeatherBug software.

"Were a white-hat player in the download applications space. We dont do any behavioral tracking, and we dont serve any pop-up advertising," said Pete Celano, vice president of marketing at WeatherBug.

"All the ads we serve are completely within the application. Weve been at this since 2000, and we have millions of active, happy users," Celano added.

In addition to a free, ad-supported version, WeatherBug sells a premium version for $19.95 a year that offers extra features such as satellite imagery, airport delays and world weather.

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