April 12, 2005 11:23 AM PDT

Anti-spyware group Coast hits an iceberg

An organization created to set anti-spyware standards has folded, following internal turmoil and the abrupt departures of several founding members.

The Consortium of Anti-Spyware Technology vendors, or Coast, was founded in 2003 as a nonprofit group of anti-spyware companies to help establish industry-binding guidelines defining spyware and a code of ethics surrounding the distribution of desktop software. But in February, co-founder Webroot Software dissented when, according to its vice president of research, the group sought to reform adware developers by helping them change and become certified Coast members.

Two months later, the group has been dissolved.

"Coast has ceased operations, and this Web site will be taken down permanently on April 15, 2005," according to a notice posted to the group's Web site.

A representative from Coast could not immediately be reached for comment.

In early February, Aluria Software and Computer Associates International's PestPatrol successively announced their departures from Coast, following Webroot's exit.

The walkout came just weeks after the group welcomed as a member adware maker 180Solutions, a company whose practices have been repeatedly in the spotlight. That decision capped growing frustration over the group's direction, according to representatives from Aluria and Webroot, making it impossible for them to remain.

At the time, the nonprofit's remaining members included software developers New.net, Weatherbug and 180Solutions.

The dissolution of Coast highlights sharp disagreements within the software industry over "adware" and "spyware," a difficult-to-define class of applications that trigger advertising on PC screens and collect data, such as Web surfing histories, to personalize marketing messages. Practices run the gamut from displaying small banner ads inside applications to infiltrating operating systems and taking over key computing functions without notice or permission.

While clear examples of legitimate and illegitimate behavior are easy to find, drawing a bright line between them has proven to be extremely difficult.

Last week, the Center for Democracy and Technology announced that it held a gathering of industry leaders to take up the charge of setting anti-spyware standards and educating consumers on how to avoid rogue software. Participants included Aluria, America Online, Webroot, Microsoft and Yahoo.

 

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