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New U.S. 'antispyware' bill invites fight with Net firms

Senate bill is likely to vex Net companies and advertisers, which have been warning for years that supposedly 'antispyware' proposals could impose problematic regulations.

A new Senate bill is likely to vex Internet companies and advertisers, which have been warning for years that supposedly 'antispyware' proposals could impose problematic regulations on legitimate businesses.

Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, said in a statement Thursday: "The industry has failed in self-regulating. It's time to step in and enact serious consequences against those who use this invasive and deceptive practice."

Sen. Mark Pryor U.S. Senate

Y'all remember how well that worked with spam, right?

Anyway, the reason this idea is likely to estrange Net companies is that it includes 34 pages of detailed and often-ambiguous regulations that must be followed precisely--on pain of facing civil and criminal penalties.

That's similar to a House of Representatives bill approved by a 368-48 vote this month that is now in the hands of the Senate. It was opposed by American Bankers Association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Information Technology Association of America, and NetCoalition (which counts Yahoo, Google, and publisher CNET Networks as members).

Some highlights from Pryor's proposal:

* Under existing law, "unfair or deceptive acts or practices" are already unlawful. This bill would add a duplicative additional prohibition outlawing the installation of software "through unfair or deceptive acts or practices." (The reason it's duplicative is that if all forms of unfair acts already are unlawful, a subset must be as well.)

* It says that an unauthorized user may not seize control of a computer and enlist it as a spam zombie spewing out bulk e-mail. Modem hijacking, denial of service attacks, and "endless" pop-up advertisements are also outlawed.

* Brower settings can't be altered through "unfair or deceptive mean." Specifically, default home pages, Web proxies, bookmarks, security settings and toolbars can't be tinkered with.

* Software must be able to be uninstalled and disabled through "reasonable efforts." Changing the name or location of software to thwart removal attempts is outlawed, as is requiring a special code or additional program to remove the application.

* Any ads displayed through software must also show the "identity or name" of the program that "caused the advertisement to appear." Ad-displaying software must be easy to eradicate through a "clear and conspicuous hypertext link." (This seems to be a way to target companies like Gator, now called Claria, which has been dubbed spyware and came bundled with popular, supposedly free software.)

Pryor's legislation, called the Counter Spy Act of 2007, is co-sponsored by Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat.