Will Spitzer Go After the Adware Industry?

In the wake of Spitzer’s action against Intermix, I’ve been seeing lots of speculation that Spitzer’s office will go after other companies as well, given Spitzer’s reputation for pursuing an entire industry. See CBS Marketwatch (registration required); Riva Richmond of Dow Jones Newswire also ran an article yesterday. In Richmond’s article, she says “Among the companies that experts say could come under scrutiny for distributing similar programs are Ask Jeeves Inc. (ASKJ), FindWhat.com Inc. (FWHT) and CNET Networks Inc. (CNET). Fallout could also extend to search-ad providers like Yahoo Inc. (YHOO), which have benefited indirectly from some of these programs.”

On the one hand, this speculation could be helpful if it helps clarify when an vendor is liable for the actions of its distributors—a point that is an untested and generally novel point of law. The anti-spyware zealots have successfully obfuscated this issue by castigating distributors and vendors equally, without even acknowledging that the law may treat them separately. Perhaps through sheer repetition, this meme is gaining traction. We could use some additional authority to enlighten, and perhaps eliminate, this meme.

On the other hand, I have an uncomfortable feeling that this is turning into a witchhunt, where otherwise-rational people make poor “guilty until proven innocent” assumptions that result in a wake of dead bodies. The zealots may get some schadenfraude, but a lot of people get hurt and society ends up worse off. There’s a certain tyranny implicit in every witchhunt; we need to vigilantly resist them accordingly.

UPDATE: AP quotes Spitzer’s office threatening the entire industry.