Spyware is at the center of a growing debate. Earlier this month, following the passage of the Utah Spyware Control Act, Andis Kaulins of LawPundit wrote,
Utah has thus begun what will surely be a necessary and welcome surge in legislation prohibiting or restricting spyware and/or similarly intrusive unwanted software programs.
The FTC just held a workshop to explore the spyware issue and, while "calling spyware the next great internet scourge" has also urged restraint in adopting new laws to control it. The Center for Democracy & Technology presented what they are calling a "consensus list" of deceptive spyware scenarios at the conference. I expect that we will need both techological and legal solutions to the growth of these practices including hijacking, surreptitious surveillance, and "inhibiting termination". I've already seen a lot of this when you install something and then can't completely get rid of it.
Several weeks ago, Sabrina Pacifici asked if the Utah bill would start a trend. But spyware legislation is not new. Sen. John Edwards introduced legislation in October 2000. Burns, Wyden and Boxer introduced more legislation in February of this year. I have no idea how many spyware bills have been issued in between that time.
Many marketers insist that it is a critical part of their marketing efforts and fully supportable. But opposition is growing. Bambi Francisco of CBS Marketwatch, rebuts the arguments that its simply a marketer's right:
"...it's not just being a smart consumer. We're moving beyond the wild west of the World Wide Web. There should be some protection and controls, like those established in Utah recently."
An America Online exec (quoted in PC World) who opposes excessive legislation argues that the industry will be somewhat self-regulating, "We'll learn what the consumer thinks based on how they respond; it's not tied to any legal definition." I'm not quite convinced of that.