Further spyware controls under consideration

The federal government may consider a range of further curbs to regulate the use of so-called spyware, but will look for pragmatic solutions from the corporate sector, public interest groups and IT vendors rather than take a legal stick to the problem.

Having rolled out a national tour to hear the complaints of industry and the public, the office of Minister for Communications, IT and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan, has told Computerworld it is keeping an open mind on the spyware issue and remains open to practical suggestions on how to minimize harmful aspects of the technology.

"Current legislation should be adequate, but we are now at a second stage to engage with industry , the public and stakeholders to determine whether there are further steps that can be taken across multiple areas," a spokesperson for Senator Coonan said.

The spokesperson added the public consultation workshops on spyware had so far been packed to capacity and that the high level of public and business interest in the topic had had been duly noted.

One interested industry party is the Australian managing director of content filtration vendor SurfControl, Charles Heunemann, who says there needs to be a clear-cut penalties regime to punish spyware promulgators under existing laws.

While it may be true existing legislation covered most forms of spyware related criminality and miscreancy, Heunemann said, those engaged in the spyware industry will care little about existing laws until they are penalized.

"The issue is enforcement. Coonan's office has determined that existing laws cover spyware, but we need an enforcement regime," he said adding that cross-jurisdictional arrangements and agreements across industry and regulatory authorities similar to the spam act also need to be thrashed out and given teeth.

As for who the great spyware promulgators really are, Heunemann says SurfControl's own monitoring is showing marketers remain the greatest offenders in terms of sheer volume.

"Mostly it's about marketing. The absolute vast majority of spyware is still adware, it's still advertising...it's pop-ups. The spyware economy is about getting your message in front of consumers.

"We are already seeing infighting amongst spyware authors. There are actually [spyware end user] licence agreements that make you agree to remove all other spyware," Heunemann said.

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