March 21, 2005

Wyden Introduces Legislation to Protect Computer Users from "Spyware" and Other Hidden Downloads

SPYBLOCK bill would require consent, uninstall capabilities for software

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today announced the introduction of legislation to prohibit a variety of surreptitious practices that result in spyware, adware and other unwanted software being placed on consumers' computers. The bipartisan SPYBLOCK (Software Principles Yielding Better Levels of Consumer Knowledge) Act, introduced with Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), would prohibit the installation of software on a computer without the owner's notice and consent. The legislation also requires reasonable "uninstall" procedures for all downloadable software. Spyware, adware and other hidden programs often secretly piggyback on downloaded Internet software without the user's knowledge, transmitting information about computer usage and generating pop-up advertisements. Frequently such software is designed to be virtually impossible to uninstall.

"Oregonians use computers daily to pay their bills, research medical conditions and to shop online, and no one should have to worry that with each click of a mouse their every move in cyberspace is being watched," said Wyden. "Consumers should have control over the programs on their machines and should not have their privacy jeopardized by invasive programs lurking on their computers. That's what the SPYBLOCK bill is about."

Wyden's SPYBLOCK legislation starts from the premise that each computer user should have knowledge and control over what software is on his or her machine. Thus, the bill's prohibitions generally focus on the installation of software. Specifically, the bill would prohibit:

• Surreptitious installation of software, where the user never intended to trigger the installation of any software and may not even be aware that any installation is occurring;

• Misleading inducements to install software, where a user is tricked into installing software by misrepresentations concerning who is providing the software or what it does;


Wyden SPYBLOCK Act, p. 2

• Installing software that, once installed, prevents efforts by the user to uninstall or disable it;

• Installing software that surreptitiously collects and transmits information about the user of a computer, automatically and without notice to the user, for purposes that are not related to making a users software or online service operate as intended;

• Installing software that causes ads to appear without identifying itself as the source of the ads; and

• Engaging in any of a variety of other deceptive practices that thwart a users control over his or her computer.

The bill also includes criminal penalties for certain particularly egregious and intentional acts, and protection for providers of anti-spyware technology acting in good faith from being sued for blocking or removing software programs from a user's computer.

The Federal Trade Commission would be charged with enforcing SPYBLOCK, with violations treated as unfair or deceptive trade practices. In addition, state Attorneys General would be authorized to bring actions as well. The bill would preempt state spyware statutes, except to the extent such statutes prohibit deception.

Wyden has long been one of Congress' leading advocates of responsible, consumer-friendly technology growth.