Tech Giants Take on Badware

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Forget about the fight against spyware. Technology giants Google, Lenovo Group, and Sun Microsystems are funding a nonprofit effort to combat something called "badware," a new term for all of the nasty spyware and computer viruses that users never wanted installed on their computers.

The Stop Badware Coalition on Wednesday will launch a Web site, which will be modeled on the Consumer Reports WebWatch site, and will be run by staff of about 12, operating out of two prominent university departments: Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and University of Oxford's Internet Institute in the U.K.

The site will compile a list of companies that stick computers with annoying pop-ups, spyware, and other malicious code and will give users a central place to get information on this growing problem, says 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 says. "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," he says.

Setting Guidelines

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 to publish the results of these tests on the Web. "It's putting the providers of this software on notice that we're going to be paying attention," Palfrey says.

Though the computer industry has been taking steps to crack down on unwanted software with initiatives like the Anti-Spyware Coalition, Palfrey believes that there is room for what he calls a "collaborative and complimentary" 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 says. "Nothing has worked yet. The problem is not getting any better."

Palfrey declines to provide more details on how the project will be funded, but says that 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 says.

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