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Google defines good manners for adware

In a new set of guidelines, the search giant says software should be polite: It should admit what it's doing, permit itself to be disabled and keep private data private.

In an attempt to cut down on misbehaving adware and spyware, Google has released a set of suggested principles for software makers to follow when writing programs that embed themselves on Internet users' PCs.

The guidelines, released Tuesday evening, say software should follow common-sense rules of politeness: It should admit what it's doing, permit itself to be disabled and not do sneaky things like leak personal information.

Google's software principles come as interest is growing at the state and federal level in regulating and perhaps even banning adware and spyware. Utah has already enacted such a law, and the U.S. House of Representatives and the Federal Trade Commission have convened hearings on the issue in the last few weeks.

In a sense, Google's move is a defensive, self-regulatory measure aimed at encouraging the mainstream software industry to find a way to make spyware and adware acceptable.

Google makes products for Windows, like the Google Toolbar and Google Deskbar, that transmit some information about Internet behavior back to its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, and these tools could be regulated by some of the broader laws being proposed. Among its other new ventures, Google appears to be making a sizeable bet on providing an ad-supported desktop search tool, as reported Wednesday in The New York Times.

Google's principles also are designed to focus criticism on pop-up adware applications like those created by WhenU and Claria (formerly Gator). Those pose two problems for the search engine giant, which recently filed for an initial public offering: First, they may launch annoying pop-up ads when an Internet user is doing searches on Google's Web site, and second, their pop-up ads may not be blocked by the Google Toolbar.

If that happens, "you may have intentionally or inadvertently installed programs such as the Gator Ads Network or Kazaa on your system," Google advises its Toolbar users.

"Our goal is to encourage industry discussion," said David Krane, Google's director of corporate communications. "We're asking our partners to do the same and have asked for their feedback on these proposed principles."

Google's move follows an earlier attempt by the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, to define good and bad software practices. The group's guidelines say programs should allow themselves to be shut down and should not engage in "surreptitious surveillance."