Some People Like “Spyware”?

I’m catching up on back reading, and I came across this December 2004 Wired News article by Michelle Delio called “Spyware on My Machine? So What?” [see update below about questions about the article]

Anti-spyware advocates are wedded to the notion that spyware is never legitimate because no one wants it. Therefore, all spyware downloads must be fraudulent or illegitimate. Yet, this article provides a number of examples of people who voluntarily downloaded “spyware” or adware knowing full well what they are doing.

For example, the article discusses how some users deliberately downloaded the Claria/Gator adware software because they wanted the e-Wallet application and were willing to trade the adware exposure for the application.

In one of the quotes that hasn’t been confirmed [see update below], another user talks about how his college blocked a “spyware” application that was bundled with a file sharing program. The user says: “This sucks….I can’t surf the web and I can’t trade files if I uninstall the spyware. Why can’t the college let me do what I want to do with my computer? The school computer security guys are being way more annoying than the spyware was.”

Perhaps this reporter found the only crackpots in the world who affirmatively, intentionally and voluntarily chose to install spyware/adware on their systems [see update below], but I don’t think so. In fact, I think there’s a pretty large group of people who went through the exact same thought process.

As a result, the foundational assumption of most anti-spyware zealots–that “spyware” is, by definition, unwanted–is false. In turn, all arguments predicated on this inaccurate assumption are tainted.

Meanwhile, the fact that some people gladly use adware reinforces just how anti-consumer the Utah and Alaska anti-adware laws are. These laws remove consumer choice about what consumers can have on their desktop–not because such choices might harm consumers, but because such choices interfere with some websites’ desires to reduce competition. The student who says that “the school computer security guys are being way more annoying than the spyware was” will next be saying “my legislators are being way more annoying than the spyware was.”

UPDATE: I was working off a contemporaneous printout of the article. I see now that some questions have been raised about some quotes in the article. Wired hasn’t retracted the article, but it would be nice if we could confirm the quotes in question. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that there are people who subscribe to the viewpoints articulated in this article. Certainly the research work of people like Deirdre Mulligan indicate that people are willing to make knowing tradeoffs to accept spyware as part of bundles.

UPDATE 2: I have asked one of my student research assistants to look for other articles that discuss people who like their adware/spyware. If you have any suggestions, recommendations or anecdotes, I’d be grateful if you would send them to me.

UPDATE 3: I was reviewing old material and I came across this article. Michael Warnecke, Developers Ratchet Up Anti-Spyware Efforts, But Legislators Will Wait for Tech Solutions, Privacy Law Watch (BNA), April 21, 2004. The article says;

“Matthew Sarrel, technical director for PC Magainze, said that when his magazine ran a cover story on spyware in March 2003, he received scores of e-mails from readers who said that they don’t mind the hidden programs as long as the trade-off allows them to get other free software they like (such as peer-to-peer file sharing programs).”

I’ll keep looking for more anecdotes like this.