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Spyware

Spyware crosses the line between legal and illegal acts. This type of software is very intrusive and stealthy. A variety of software products are building in functionality that installs unwanted and unknown software on your system, piggybacking on other software installations and sending out information to the company about you and your system that you might not want divulged. These products also are often used to download advertisements to your computer. The only way to find out that the software's there is when it starts making changes to your system settings, sending out traffic from your system that you can notice, or opening an Internet connection for its own purposes.

Spyware is an offshoot of adware, which is freeware that embeds ads into free programs, thereby generating revenue through advertisements and links to the company placing the ad. Adware programs usually have a free version with ads and a paid version without ads. Spyware is synonymous with its name: It masks itself as freeware or adware but has an alternative purpose, which is usually to track users' activities and monitor their actions. This type of activity is unwanted by just about all consumers, but no laws strictly prohibit this type of activity. Several lawsuits have been brought against spyware companies; one such case was a lawsuit against Radiate, which made spyware. The company settled a case in February 2001 that said it was using its software to collect demographic data and monitor viewing preferences without consumer knowledge. One bill in front of Congress addresses spyware—the Spyware Control and Privacy Protection Act, which would provide for the disclosure of the collection of information through computer software. This act would essentially make spyware illegal, but it has not been passed yet.


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