A story in the New York Times this morning described how the Federal Trade Commission is going after a former fax spammer who is now allegedly using "spyware" to track our activities on the web, push us to various marketing programs, barrage us with advertisements, and otherwise make our Internet experience less than positive. I think the FTC is doing a pretty good job on this. We do not need new laws; we just need to do a better job enforcing the ones we have. There are existing laws that prohibit "unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce". Spyware sounds like a match to me. The more important answer however, as I have written here many times, is not legal. People such as the one described are constantly looking for ways to put things in our face and maneuvering through legal nuances until they get stopped and then moving on to another tactic. The best answer is the use of technology.
Some argue that Microsoft Windows should solve all the problems, but I don’t feel that is what we really want. We do want Microsoft to continue to improve the quality of Windows, but do we want to be dependent on one company, one operating system (Windows), for all known issues and problems with personal computers? I don’t think so. The more they cram into Windows the bigger the target for the attackers. Fortunately, there are many innovative startup companies out there who have developed some very good tools that can help us. I hope that everyone already uses anti-virus, firewall, backup, and spam blocking tools — there are many available. (See PC Magazine if you need help in deciding which to use). There are some other good tools to use as well.
I use Spybot Search & Destroy by Patrick Kolla. I run it every week or so and it always finds nefarious things that have been placed on my computer by DoubleClick and other advertising/marketing "trackers" that seem to care little about our privacy. Spybot also has an immunize feature to automatically ditch a list of bad actors that can cause actual harm to your system.
Another excellent utility I use is called Registry Mechanic. Registry Mechanic analyses the Windows "registry" which is a database of technical information about all the software you have on your system. Problems with the registry are a common cause of Windows crashes and error messages. The registry mechanic repairs invalid registry entries and increases your system speed and stability by removing irrelevant information.
I can’t resist adding that if you have not yet tried the Opera browser, you are missing a treat. The multiple tabbed windows and impressive speed are part of the attraction but there is also the advantage of no longer getting any pop-up windows. None. Opera is also very responsive in dealing with reported security issues. There is quite a community developing around Opera.