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Why doesn’t Microsoft sue the spyware companies?

By September 8, 2003web-tech

I spent a couple of hours this weekend doing some cyber-pruning; I removed hundreds of spyware programs from two of my home computers (not my Mac, of course, because it doesn’t attract such crud). Before I got around to running Spybot Search & Destroy I went into the Control Panel settings and used the old Add/Remove Programs function. There I found some obviously evil detritis, but I also noticed something interesting.

If you are familiar with this little area of your Windows operating system you’ll remember that the Microsoft programs and add-ons have their own distinctive icon. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, a lot of the malicious programs that I needed to remove had icons that looked just like the Microsoft icon. And they had names that were deceptively similar to what you would expect a Windows system program to have. Clearly, this is fraud of the highest order.

What I can’t figure out though is why Microsoft hasn’t gone after at least one of these companies. After all, they are severely diminishing the performance of Microsoft’s operating system. In most cases the users don’t realize that their performance problems aren’t caused by Microsoft. Obviously these spyware programs, by hobbling the computer’s performance, are tarnishing Microsoft’s reputation (such as it is). Normally, a company whose reputation is being tarnished through deceit practiced on its customers will initiate litigation.

Well, I suppose Microsoft’s legal department has considered this issue and rejected the idea of litigation. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in Microsoft’s legal department suggested that, since the users had agreed (via boilerplate licence agreements that the users didn’t bother to read) to let the malicious spyware providers install the offending programs, such a lawsuit would be fruitless.

I obviously haven’t studied the issue in depth, but I’m not so sure there isn’t a basis for a lawsuit. Let’s assume that the users specifically allowed the spyware companies to download software. Did the users agree to be deceived and have software loaded that appeared to be Microsoft software (making it much harder to find and remove)? And did Microsoft agree to allow people to use icons or dialogue boxes that closely resemble legitimate system notices?

No obviously they didn’t. The spyware purveyors are clearly on shaky footing; I doubt there is a court in the land that would allow them to escape liability, especially after hearing testimony about the lengths to which these companies go to make their software difficult to uninstall. So why doesn’t Microsoft sue them? I don’t know, but I do know that everyone (except the targets of the litigation) would be pulling for them if they did. And that would certainly be an unusual twist, wouldn’t it?


P.S. If you appreciate my observations, you might want to join my inner circle.

4 Comments

  • Jen says:

    What would prevent an end user from suing the spyware makers? I’m thinking especially of spyware which installs without permission and then locks the user in, making it extremely difficult to remove.

    There is one company in particular which installs unwanted toolbars and spawns continuous pop-up ads. I believe this same company advertises a “free” adware removal tool, but in fact charges a fee for actual removal of its own offending software.

    Doe the Windows EULA actually provide legal protection from class-action type lawsuits for these companies? What they are doing seems so nefarious, it’s hard to believe the law is on their side.

  • Daryl J says:

    Because Windows itself is choca block full of spyware, maybe they’re scared that the media will make it common knowledge

  • Russ says:

    Spybot S&D is a critical program to have on your computer. I would further add that many times these spyware and adware programs are added without the users knowledge or permission. Additionally, adding one program to your computer can open a huge floodgate to your computer.

    Personally, I would love to see MS go after some of these companies. They definitely have the resources to do so, and you’d have to imagine that for once, fighting for the little guy, they might even garner some positive vibes in the computing industry.

    My sense is that they will not bother, because hey, its good to be the king. Mac OS, Linux and other OS’s may be better, but we know that for a substantial majority of the people out there, its Windows without even a second thought going into it.

    RussEditor – Legal Memo-Random

  • Robert says:

    I’m fond of Spybot too. It seems to work pretty well. With/re: keeping adaware on as well as Spybot, you’ll get a message that informs you there is a potential conflict. When you run Adaware, it’s possible that it will detect Spybot, and seek to clean it. At least, that’s the incompatibility from my memory. It’s never actually affected the performance of either.

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