Merriam-Webster Defines “Spyware”

By Eric Goldman

A lot of attention has been directed to Merriam-Webster’s addition of Google to its dictionary–as a verb, no less. I’m sure the Google trademark department isn’t thrilled about the genericide implications of this.

Meanwhile, this announcement overshadowed another significant addition to the dictionary: Merriam-Webster also defined the term “spyware” as follows:

software that is installed in a computer without the user’s knowledge and transmits information about the user’s computer activities over the Internet

I thought this was a competent and pithy (22 words!) definition. It captures what I think are the three essential elements of spyware:

* the software watches user behavior

* the software reports this information somewhere other than the user’s hard drive

* the software isn’t consensual

Perhaps this definition will become the long-desired standard definition of spyware. Productive dialogue is only possible with standardized nomenclature, and the Anti-Spyware Coalition definitions, while competent, haven’t really emerged as the standard.