Just An Online Minute... Consumer Groups Back Spyware Removal Company

Zango is one of the largest adware companies still in business and has one of the most checkered pasts. For years, advocates complained that the company used suspect methods to install its ad-serving software on consumes' computers. For years, Zango said it was doing the best it could to police affiliates, who allegedly violated company policy by drive-by installations.

Eventually, the digital rights group Center for Democracy & Technology grew fed up with the company and filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint against it rather than continue to try to work with Zango. The adware company ultimately agreed to pay a $3 million FTC fine and to take steps to make sure that its software didn't end up on people's computers without their informed consent.

Given that track record, it's not surprising that security vendors sell programs that remove Zango from consumers' computers. What is surprising is that Zango is pressing forward with a lawsuit against one such company, Kaspersky Lab, on the theory that Kaspersky is interfering with Zango's relationships with its customers.

A federal judge in Seattle dismissed the case, ruling that the federal Communications Decency Act confers immunity on "good samaritans" who help consumers block objectionable content.

Zango appealed to the 9th Circuit, arguing that consumers who have downloaded Zango's software, which serves pop-up ads, want the program -- a theory that doesn't take into account that people can change their minds, or that the downloader might not have been fully aware of the consequences.

This week, a host of groups including the Anti-Spyware Coalition, the Center for Democracy & Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation weighed in on behalf of Kaspersky Lab. They argued that companies that remove ad-serving programs are removing precisely the type of objectionable content that Congress had in mind when it passed the Communications Decency Act. "One aspect of some spyware is that it causes 'pop-up' advertisements and other nagging and bothersome windows to open on computers," the groups argue. "Such actions are indeed -- at least to many users of anti-spyware services -- 'harassing.' "

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