House Passes Anti-Spyware Bills

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The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of legislation designed to fight spyware that infects computers with tracking software.

The SPY ACT (Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass) passed in a 399-1 vote Tuesday night. It sets disclosure requirements for companies that distribute software that tracks Web users' behavior. It requires that customers choose to install the software and agree to the collection of information. The bill also requires the Federal Trade Commission to set rules and handle enforcement.

The bill, sponsored by Mary Bono, R-CA, calls for fines of up to $3 million for those found guilty of spreading the most virulent forms of spyware, such as keystroke loggers that collect personal information.

The Senate is considering its own spyware bill, the SPY BLOCK Act (Software Principles Yielding Better Levels of Consumer Knowledge), sponsored by CAN-SPAM Act supporter Conrad Burns, R-MT. It also requires disclosure and mandates that software be easy to uninstall.

The congressional action comes as spyware gains a place alongside spam as a threat to Internet use. A study released Monday by EarthLink found that the average computer it scanned in the third quarter had 25 types of spyware on it. The audit included everything from system-monitoring software to adware to advertising cookies.

Adware makers Claria and have fought to keep legislation from infringing on their desktop ad services, which show contextual marketing messages tied to Web browsing habits.

"This is a great bill with real teeth that will separate legitimate desktop advertising from deceptive players and really help clean up the industry," WhenU president Avi Naider wrote in an e-mail message.

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