Difusin' The Spyware Confusion

Unethical adware and spyware being confused with other types of monitoring software.

August 10, 2004

3 Min Read
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We all know that once the media finds a buzzword that works, they run with it. A current example is the plethora of articles concerning 'spyware': the modern day equivalent to the Plague, if the reports are taken literally.

What has not been addressed is the confusion in the minds' of consumers that the term spyware creates. Thus, once and for all, and being a qualified individual, I will attempt to properly define spyware:

spyware: noun
1) Unethical and possibly illegal software that Internet marketers sneak onto your computer via websites and file sharing applications (Kazaa) for the purpose of popping up advertisements or collecting marketing data from you. Similar to adware.

2) Spy software: software used to secretly record Internet activities, as in the case of a parent monitoring a child for safety.

As you can see there is a big difference: intent. People do not want the first type of spyware on their computers. It slows down browsing, pops up annoying ads and is almost like a virus.

However, the second type, actually "spy software", is used and loved by thousands of parents around the world. Rather than filter and censor their child's Internet experience, they keep a log of everything going on so that they can be aware and informed.To stop here would be a good start, but would only scratch the surface of the issues. For example, what if someone installs spy software (definition 2) on your computer without your permission or knowledge. In this case, it sort of becomes spyware (definition 1) because you don't know about it or want it there. This type of situation happens more than you might think, and typically involves married or dating couples wanting to make sure the other is not 'cheating' online. Not a great testimony of our society, is it?

In any case, the real point here is that all the negative press and articles about 'spyware' is causing people to be fearful or mistrustful of legitimate 'spy software' programs for parents. While these may sound ominous, many parents have come to rely on them, and recommend them to others each and every day. However, with the current misconceptions, some parents may be afraid to download them for fear of 'infecting' their computer.

Perhaps this brings up a good point of its own: ease of uninstall. Spyware definition 1 is typically difficult to uninstall, if not impossible. I recently dealt with an adware infection that took every single talent in my 15 year IT toolbelt. Spyware definition 2 is easily uninstalled " by the person that installed it, usually with the help of a password. Spyware 2 will not leave any 'dangling' files or logs after uninstallthe same cannot be said of true 'spyware'.

The good news is that there is an evolving breed of software to help you rid your computer of ANY type of spyware or spy software that is unwanted. Many families have a parental monitoring product installed on the same machine as a spyware 'cleaner' product like www.spycatcher.com, because they understand the difference clearly.

Joshua Finer is a nationally known Internet safety expert and President of Software4Parents.com.0

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