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What you don't know can hurt you.

Four out of five computer users have spyware or adware programs on their computer but don't know it.

These programs might cause pop-up ads to appear, sometimes relentlessly; others might change a computer user's home page, add links to his list of favorites sites, or redirect search requests to a Web site of the spyware company's choosing. Spyware and adware also can slow a computer's operations or cause it to malfunction or crash. More sinister types of spyware, such as keystroke loggers, can capture everything a person types, including passwords, financial information, and the contents of e-mail messages. Some of these programs even claim to detect and remove spyware, but instead do nothing or actually install spyware.

In a short time, spyware has gone from being a minor annoyance to a major problem, leading state lawmakers in more than half the states this year to consider ways to help curb the problem. So far this year, Arizona, Arkansas and Virginia passed laws and bills have gone to the governor in three more states.

Utah and California in 2004 enacted anti-spyware legislation. Utah's law faced a court challenge on grounds that it violated free speech rights and hindered interstate commerce. Legislation amending the law passed this year. According to the law's sponsor, Senator Steven Urquhart, this year's bill more narrowly addresses the problem.

California's legislation prohibits installing software that takes control of a user's computer or collects personally identifiable information without permission, as well as certain other intentionally deceptive actions.

The California law has been called "toothless," however, by some critics, and others claim that certain provisions are virtually unenforceable and could weaken existing statutes that protect privacy and prohibit deceptive practices.

There are other criticisms of legislation that is aimed at specific technologies. For example, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has pointed out the difficulties of precisely defining spyware and other changing technologies, noting that some definitions are over-broad and could hurt legitimate practices, while others are too narrow to cover some of the worst offenders. The group favors legislation that would apply to information collected or shared online regardless of the specific technology or software application. Industry groups also often favor federal legislation over state laws, citing difficulties in complying with various state regulations.
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Title Annotation:TRENDS AND TRANSITIONS
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:377
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