Frequently Asked Questions
Q) What is the Anti-Spyware Coalition?
A) The Anti-Spyware Coalition is an organization made up of the world's most prominent anti-spyware providers as well as key public interest groups committed to combating the rise of unwanted spyware clogging computers and endangering Internet communications. It draws on the combined expertise of its members to help consumers better defend their computers against unwanted technologies, improve communication about what constitutes spyware and how anti-spyware companies combat it, and offer proposals for strengthening anti-spyware technology globally.
Q) Can I join the ASC?
A) Membership in the ASC is limited to public interest groups and companies that design or distribute legitimate anti-spyware technologies. Applicants are reviewed by the entire ASC membership. Since ASC is a consensus body, all members must agree before a new member can be added to the coalition. This policy ensures that all ASC members are committed to the cause of identifying real solutions to the spyware problem.
The Center for Democracy and Technology convened the Anti-Spyware Coalition. Anti-spyware companies or public interest groups interested in joining the Coalition should contact Ari Schwartz, CDT Associate Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-637-9800
Q) Do some members have more sway in ASC? Do all members get the same vote, regardless of size?
A) The ASC is a consensus body, so there are no "votes" per se. The entire ASC membership must approve an initiative or document before it is released to the public. This means that each member effectively has "veto" power over decisions with which they may disagree. While it is a challenge to coordinate input from more than 30 busy organizations, the consensus process ensures that the coalition will continue to produce strong, substantive proposals to address the spyware problem.
Q) Does ASC lobby legislators on spyware bills?
A) No. Although ASC members understand that battle against spyware is multi-pronged --involving important legal and legislative components -- the coalition focuses its efforts entirely on the technological aspect of that process. The ASC is committed to improving anti-spyware tools, users' understanding of their options, and communication among all stakeholders about how the technology works, and what programs raise concerns. The ASC maintains no lobbying function.
Q) Will the ASC certify my anti-spyware software?
A) No. The ASC is not a seal organization and has no plan to take on that function. The ASC does not make determinations about whether specific programs constitute "spyware," nor does it certify anti-spyware programs.
Q) How can I participate in the ASC if I'm not part of a public interest group or anti-spyware company?
A) The ASC values public input. All of the coalition's major documents and proposals are offered for public comment before they're finalized. The ASC relies on those comments to help refine its proposals and improve their usefulness. Check the ASC Web site (http://www.antispywarecoalition.org ) for the latest proposals and documents. ASC is also planning public workshops that will allow others to interact with ASC members and provide more direct feedback on the ASC process.
Q) Why did the ASC feel the need to define spyware?
A) One of the biggest obstacles to developing a unified response to the spyware problem has been the lingering confusion over what spyware is, and what it is not. Studies indicated that consumers did not have a common understanding of the definitions, and even within the anti-spyware industry, companies were using different terms to identify the same unwanted technologies. The ASC spyware definitions laid the groundwork for the group's efforts to protect consumers and improve anti-spyware tools.
Q) What is Spyware? Why does ASC seem to have two meanings for spyware?
ASC does use the term spyware uses in two ways. In its narrow sense, spyware is a term for Tracking Software deployed without adequate notice, consent, or control for the user. In its broader sense, spyware is used as a synonym for what the ASC calls “Spyware and Other Potentially Unwanted Technologies:”
Technologies deployed without appropriate user consent and/or implemented in ways that impair user control over:
Material changes that affect their user experience, privacy, or system security;
Use of their system resources, including what programs are installed on their computers; and/or
Collection, use and distribution of their personal or other sensitive information.
In technical contexts, ASC uses the term spyware only in its narrower sense -- marking it as such [spyware (narrow)]. However, the ASC understands that it is impossible to avoid the broader connotations of the term in popular usage, and does not attempt to do so. For example, we refer to the group as the Anti-Spyware Coalition and vendors as makers of anti-spyware software, even recognizing that their scope of concern extends beyond tracking software.
To be clear, the term spyware --when used generally in an ASC document --will always refer to the broader colloquial usage. When it is intended narrowly, in a technical context, it will be marked accordingly.
Q) Is there any danger that spyware creators will use those definitions to write malicious programs that abide by the letter, but not the spirit of the definitions?
A) The ASC was very careful in drafting the spyware definitions to ensure that the document did not become a roadmap for developers looking to sneak unwanted programs into users' computers. The definitions broadly identify the very behavioral characteristics that make spyware objectionable and unwanted. We develop documents to focus on bad practices that exist today, and, as an added safety precaution, the ASC has stated that these will be living documents that can change to reflect the evolving nature of unwanted software.
Q) Are there certain practices that all anti-spyware companies should follow? Does ASC require that its members follow those practices?
A) The coalition has issued a document outlining the steps that anti-spyware companies should follow to resolve disputes with software developers who allege that their programs have been unfairly flagged as spyware. The ASC feels that these documents will help to strengthen anti-spyware offerings across the board, and help anti-spyware companies focus on their core business of safeguarding computers against unwanted software. The ASC does not, however, require its members to follow any specific practices in developing their own anti-spyware tools. One of the great strengths of the anti-spyware industry is the wealth of options currently available.
Q) Is ASC going to be a central place for arbitration of disputes between software publishers and anti-spyware companies?
A) ASC will not become an arbitration body for complaints. The vendor dispute process outlines a set of practices that will aid anti-spyware companies in fairly resolving disputes. It is important to remember that consumers chose to use certain anti-spyware tools because they trust the anti-spyware tool to serve as an agent to give them advice. Therefore, their customers expect them to make decisions about what software is unwanted on their behalf and ASC expects that consumers will hold them accountable for mistakes in the marketplace.
Q) What are objective criteria and risk modeling?
A) Objective criteria are the standards that a particular anti-spyware company uses to make observational, fact-based decisions about how to categorize software and to determine whether or not it is spyware. Risk modeling is a process used by anti-spyware companies to determine how much risk particular unwanted programs pose to consumers.
Q) Are the ASC documents only for the industry?
A) No, while the documents do attempt to clarify through definitions and a glossary of terms related to spyware, they are not overly technical and the general public can learn a great deal about their exposure to and risks associated with spyware by reading them. In addition, the ASC is also releasing Safety Tips for Fighting Spyware that can help consumers who have concerns about spyware.