By Evan Hansen, John Borland and Rachel Konrad
Staff Writers, CNET News.com
June 26, 2002, 4:00 AM PT
The Wild West days of cyberspace are over--and, like it or not, it's time for government to change its laissez-faire attitude toward the Internet and create laws that clearly prevent unscrupulous businesses from preying on unsuspecting consumers and seizing control of computers.
Technologies that "piggyback" on free software available on the Net, often unbeknownst to those who download it, are being used with rising frequency by marketers seeking to pinpoint potential customers. But many of those same programs can be used to spy on an individual's every move and even take over a PC's hard drive--in theory, if not in practice.
True to the Web's libertarian spirit, grassroots programmers have begun an arms race of sorts against these technologies, developing software to combat offensive ads and other practices. Others believe that businesses will abandon these intrusive tactics as unworkable and say that pending legislation will take care of related privacy concerns.
As written today, however, neither protective software nor proposed regulations adequately address the potential for technologies to surreptitiously take up permanent residence in millions of computers at home and at work--the digital equivalent of trespassing on personal property.