Poor Defenders

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Companies Respond

Nathan Shafer, answering our e-mail message to Spyware Stormer, challenged our test methodology. Shafer wrote that Spyware Stormer detects "over 20,000 variants of spyware and adware," and that its performance with the six applications we chose was therefore "hardly representative in any way."

PAL Solutions, which produces PAL Spyware Remover, responded to questions about the test results by saying that a yet-to-be-released version of its software would detect as many as 5000 spyware applications, compared with the 600 programs the version we tested was supposed to detect. Similarly, a representative of Network Dynamics, which makes SpyBlocs, said that a newer version of the product had been released after our testing cut-off date.

We were unable to reach NoAdware, but the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York reported that it had received 22 complaints about the company, which is not a member of the BBB, by early October. Network Dynamics has a clean record as a member of Southern California's BBB. The BBB's complaint database contained no record of complaints for the remainder of the companies whose products we tested.

Hard Sell

Aside from their shortcomings as spyware removers, many of these utilities use aggressive marketing tactics in pop-up ads, spam, and keyword ads appearing alongside Google search results.

Some companies use pop-ups that mimic the appearance of Windows dialog boxes but include the word advertisement in light gray text in a corner, where it might easily escape a PC user's notice.

Some companies employ a domain name that contains the name or names of better-known competing programs. For example, the Web site www.spybot-virus-scan.com, which some consumers might expect to be associated with Spybot Search & Destroy, promotes PAL Spyware Remover.

Still other companies buy ads on Google pages displaying search results for the names of popular competitors. When we searched for "Ad-Aware," for example, we found an ad for NoAdware.

Protect Your PC

To find out more about other people's experiences with spyware-removal tools, check sources such as the message boards on sites listed at ASAP's page.

The Better Business Bureau's Web site is another good source: There you can type in a company's URL to search for records and complaints.

Howes recommends avoiding products promoted in ads that appear designed to increase your anxiety level, such as pop-up ads that look similar to Windows dialog boxes. He suggests using a combination of free spyware removers first-- Spybot and Ad-Aware SE Personal. If you continue to experience any unexpected changes to your computer system, try a commercial application such as PestPatrol, which detected all of the spyware on our test system.

Don't let marketing tactics scare you into paying for an anti-spyware product that may not do as good a job of protecting your PC as a free application. It pays to do a little homework before you punch in those credit card numbers.

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