Forget about the fight against spyware. Technology giants Google, Lenovo and Sun are funding a non-profit effort to combat something called 'badware', a term for all of the nasty spyware and computer viruses that users don't want installed on their computers.
Fighting for the ordinary consumer
The StopBadware Coalition have launched a website today, which will be modelled on the Consumer Reports WebWatch site, and will be run by a staff numbering about 12, operating out of two prominent university departments: Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the University of Oxford's Internet Institute in the UK.
The site will compile a list of companies that hit computers with annoying pop-ups, spyware and other malicious code and will give users a central place to get information on this growing problem, said John Palfrey, co-director of the StopBadware Coalition and executive director of the Berkman Center.
"For too long too many unscrupulous companies have made millions of dollars infecting our computers with malicious software," Palfrey said. "The first thing that we're attempting to do is create a clearing house based on the web where people can come and tell their stories about their experiences with badware."
The coalition also plans to publish a set of guidelines defining what exactly it means by 'badware', and to test software against these guidelines and publish the results on the web. "It's putting the providers of this software on notice that we're going to be paying attention," Palfrey said.
Though the computer industry has been taking steps to crack down on unwanted software with initiatives such as the Anti-Spyware Coalition, Palfrey believes there is room for a collaborative effort that covers a broader range of software, and is more focused on the consumer experience. "We mean to fill what we see as a gap in the fight against spyware," he said. "Nothing has worked yet. The problem is not getting any better."
Palfrey declined to provide more details on how the StopBadware.org project will be funded, but said it is "a multiyear and multimillion-dollar effort". Consumer Reports WebWatch will serve as an advisor to the project, but the 'web credibility' research project will not be paid for this service, Palfrey said.