The popular Kazaa P-to-P (peer-to-peer) file-trading software and a supposed spyware-blocking application are among the first four programs identified as "badware" by the fledgling StopBadware.org group in a report released Wednesday.
StopBadware.org, in its first report since forming in January, identified SpyAxe, a program advertised as a spyware blocker, as badware, the group's term for spyware, viruses, deceptive adware, and other nefarious software. Besides Kazaa and SpyAxe, StopBadware.org named MediaPipe, a download manager produced by U.K. company Net Publican, and Waterfalls 3, a screensaver distributed at Screensaver.com, as badware.
The four applications "clearly violated" guidelines from StopBadware.org, said John Palfrey, co-director of StopBadware.org and executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. While the group eventually hopes to identify dozens of applications, these four generated significant complaints to StopBadware.org, he said.
"We think there's enormous value ... in giving consumers more control and giving them more information before they do something that could be damaging to their computers," Palfrey said. "The longer term goal is we hope that these reports ... will lead the providers of applications to operate more openly and more transparently."
Three of the four applications have deceptive installation mechanisms, three modify other software on the user's computer, and three are difficult to uninstall completely, according to the report. However, none of the four violated StopBadware.org's guidelines against hurting other computers, and only one, Waterfalls 3, transmits private data to other sources, the group said.
Sharman Networks, which distributes Kazaa, disputed the report. The software does distribute adware, but "this is made clear to users," said Felicity Campbell, a spokesperson for the company. Users can also update for $30 to stop the ads, or uninstall Kazaa, she said.
Campbell also disputed the report's findings that Kazaa is difficult to completely uninstall, blaming a glitch in the Microsoft Windows operating system for making it appear as if Kazaa files remain. "The glitch simply implies that everything hasn't be uninstalled even though it has," she said in an e-mail.
The three other companies providing the identified software packages were not available for comment.
Without StopBadware.org and other watchdogs, users might stop using computers that can download innovative new applications, instead buying locked-down devices that limit choices, said Jonathan Zittrain, co-director of StopBadware.org and professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University.
"If we don't solve this problem, then my concern is consumers will gravitate naturally from PCs that are capable of running code from nearly anywhere on the Internet," he said. "Those [locked-down] PCs will have gatekeepers, and some great piece of code won't be able to find an audience."
Details of the Report
-- Kazaa has deceptive installation procedures, modifies other software, interferes with computer use, and is hard to uninstall. Although Sharman Networks claims Kazaa includes no spyware, it does include software that subverts the computer's operations. Kazaa also installs adware that can only be closed by killing the process from the Windows task manager.
-- SpyAxe interferes with computer use and is difficult to uninstall. The main application window contains no "exit" or "quit" buttons, and even when a user clicks the "X" button on the upper right corner of the application, it continues to run in the system tray. SpyAxe also launches automatically after a reboot, causing the program to scan the computer and ask the user to pay for the program. The program does not disclose during installation that users will be prompted to pay each time it's used.
--- MediaPipe reserves the right to charge for use after uninstallation, and after uninstallation, an executable remains. MediaPipe also installs a P-to-P program that can use bandwidth without the computer user's permission. The software includes pop-up requests for payments, which is disclosed in the end-user license agreement, but not during installation.
-- Waterfalls 3 includes components by Webhancer, commonly considered spyware. Its license agreement reserves the right to install software as its distributor sees fit, and it adds three programs to the Windows startup folder.