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Symantec sued for labeling product 'adware'

Small software maker says security giant has crushed business by mislabeling its anti-spyware product.

A small San Diego software company is suing Symantec, claiming that the computer security giant is driving away business by unfairly lumping it in with spyware distributors.

TrekEight (which variably refers to itself also as "Trek8," "TrekData" and "TrekBlue") makes a product called Spyware Nuker, which it advertises as a tool for identifying and removing spyware on computer hard drives. But Symantec's Web site and Norton AntiVirus software has for months been identifying TrekEight's software as a potentially damaging piece of "adware."

The San Diego software company says that's not true. As a result of Symantec's actions, it says, it has lost distributors, and its own distributors have lost the ability to advertise on Google.

"Because of Symantec's false statements...TrekEight has suffered significant losses in sales and damage to its reputation," the company said in its complaint. "The computer programming code which comprises 'Spyware Nuker' is incapable of performing the functions typically associated with spyware and adware."

It's a tricky problem, and one that's likely to get even worse, as public awareness rises and laws targeting spyware are passed by state legislatures and possibly even Congress.

Consumers are increasingly eager to rid their computers of anything that might be "spyware," "adware" or "malware"--but these are slang terms that have no widely accepted, hard-and-fast definitions.

TrekEight separately sells e-mail marketing and other Web advertising services. CNET has received e-mail advertisements for Spyware Nuker software, but not directly from TrekEight.

However, Symantec's site says the software itself is adware. Other analyses by online spyware hunters say they haven't seen the software install any advertising or spy components.

A Symantec spokesman said the company had not seen a copy of TrekEight's lawsuit and could not comment.