Yahoo Moves Against Spyware

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Yahoo will offer anti-spyware software as part of its Internet browser search toolbar, the Sunnyvale, CA, company said yesterday.


The company said it would offer Pest Patrol's software free to Yahoo Toolbar users. Pest Patrol helps users identify and remove unwanted programs on their computer, including spyware, which is generally defined as computer programs loaded on a user's computer without consent. Some programs track Internet behavior, even stealing credit card numbers and passwords, while adware serves pop-up advertising tied to Web browsing habits.


The beta version of Anti-Spy for the Yahoo Toolbar lets users click on a button to receive an audit of what potential spyware and adware are on their machine. Users can choose to uninstall the software. The toolbar includes a Web search box, pop-up blocker and links to Yahoo content areas.


Critics of adware companies such as Claria and WhenU assert their pop-up advertising software is spyware, a charge the companies deny. Lawsuits are pending against both Claria and WhenU, claiming many of their combined 70 million users do not know they have the software.


Congress is considering spyware-related bills. The Federal Trade Commission convened a one-day meeting in April to discuss spyware. Utah enacted a controversial spyware law. New York and California are considering spyware legislative measures.


Yahoo is not the first Internet service to target spyware. AOL, MSN and EarthLink offer spyware-removal software for subscribers. EarthLink said in April that it had found 1 million computers with 29.5 million pieces of spyware installed since it began sniffing for spyware in January. EarthLink said the majority were adware programs.


Yahoo's move comes a week after Google weighed in on spyware by posting a proposal to fight deceptive software. The guidelines urge that companies make abundantly clear to consumers when they are downloading software, casting doubt on the common practice of paying for bundling with popular free software. For example, Claria gets most of its downloads from its bundling with file-sharing program KaZaA.


In addition to the spyware-removal software, Yahoo said it would open a forum for news on fighting spyware. The hazy line between legitimate software and spyware is shown in Pest Patrol's top five "pests of the week." The No. 1 pest is CometSystems, an adware program recently acquired by paid search company FindWhat.com.


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