Monday, August 23, 2004

WAKE UP!

It’s almost been two months since my last post and I had considered discontinuing this blog for various reasons that are not worth mentioning here. However, news about the dangers of spyware, adware, malware or whatever you may call it seems to be everywhere, and it’s left my head spinning.

I completely support empowering the masses and making Internet users more aware about the plethora of online threats that are out there, but a lot of what's being reported in the press is vague and inconsistent and that’s not helping anyone. I agree that spyware is not easy to define, but I do believe that there is need to draw a clear distinction between applications that are dangerous and those that are legitimate, do no harm to consumers and are crucial for e-commerce. To add to the escalating mess, anti-spyware vendors tend to label a whole host of things as either spyware or adware that should be feared by everyone and lawmakers seem to be in a hurry to arrive at a quick-fix solution that could do more harm than good. So who's to blame for this rising tide of misinformation and more importantly, who has the solution? I believe the answer lies in the online marketing industry and I also believe that they are not doing enough.

A combination of anti-spyware tools, legislation and good business practices seems like the only plausible solution in sight, but the industry has to first take a lead on self-regulation and consumer education. So far, the industry has adopted a responsive approach to protect their vested interests, but I think its time they got more proactive. I'm not talking about isolated efforts by a few companies, because if one truly wants to educate consumers and embrace self-regulation, the industry has to adopt a united stance and inform the world about what (in their opinion) amounts to responsible business practices. Although this might seem like a Herculean task, I'm afraid that if we don't hear from the industry soon, internet users will get used to being suspicious about anything that interacts with their computers and will turn to firewalls and anti-spyware tools that not only block the bad guys, but also impact legitimate applications.

There is still ample opportunity for legitimate companies that are likely to be impacted by anti-spyware tools and poorly drafted laws to step up and be honest and clear about what they do and why no internet user should be concerned about their business practices. Crafting exceptions in proposed spyware laws to meet one's own business goals will do nothing to combat long-term consumer concerns about the safety of their computers and personal information.

If things continue the way they are, we’re not going to achieve anything because the bad guys are getting smarter and Internet users are just getting screwed!