The group's guidelines carry no legal weight, but might be influential with some members--like Aluria and Lavasoft--that manufacture anti-spyware removal software.
The proposed standards don't spell out whether any particular product should be classified as harmful, but instead provide various risk factors--a laundry list of traits of software programs, with each trait assessed for its degree of risk.
"The risk factors have general weights (high, medium, and low) that help show the relative impact to the user," states the document. "Although all behaviors can be problematic if unauthorized, certain ones tend to have a greater impact and are treated with more severity than others."
When programs serve pop-up ads, one of the key indicators of potential harm is whether the pop-ups "are clearly attributed to the source program," according to the guidelines.
The guidelines also look at factors that could indicate whether consumers have consented to the programs. For instance, in the case of bundled programs, one factor is whether consumers have opted-in to receive the bundled software (considered a high indication of consent) or whether consumers' only notification about bundled software came in an end-user license agreement (considered a low indication of consumer consent).
Similarly, the easier a program is to remove, the more likely it is that the consumer has consented to the program, according to the guidelines.
The organization is accepting comments on the guidelines through Nov. 27.