Desktop software firm WeatherBug has created what it's calling a "bill of rights" for consumer and business users who download desktop applications. The statement of principles is posted on its Web site at www.weatherbug.com/billofrights.
The move is the company's attempt to distinguish itself from the more sinister players in the desktop software space. In doing so, it eschews both the "adware" and "spyware" labels -- oft-used terms that lack strict definitions.
The spyware issue is of growing concerns to computer users, as indicated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) April workshop on the subjects. A recent study found the average computer houses roughly 28 items of monitoring software, unbeknownst to the user, according to Internet service provider EarthLink and Webroot Software.
A desktop application, WeatherBug streams live local weather conditions to 15 million users from a nationwide network of 7,000 school- and community-based weather stations. The company is pursuing the at-work audience, as well as consumers at home and hopes its bill of rights will at least partially allay fears about downloading its software.
"Increasingly it's not enough to have a business know that you're kosher, you have to convince the IT guy," said Pete Celano, WeatherBug's VP of marketing. The company's bill of rights was created partly with the IT director in mind, he said.
First in WeatherBug's bill of rights is a statement that users have "the right to receive clear, meaningful notice." The guideline also supports "the ability to affirmatively provide informed consent regarding whether or not to download and exactly when."
The second guideline addresses another critical adware concern: how to uninstall downloaded software. The guideline says consumers have "the right to rapidly and easily uninstall an unwanted application."
The third guideline says consumers have "the right to comprehend exactly what you are downloading, including the company behind it, the exact product name and version."
The fourth guideline asserts "the right to understand unmistakably what, if any, cost the download entails, initially or at any point forward, and any limitations or restrictions of use, including if the user will experience any form of advertising."
The fifth guideline maintains that consumers have "the right to a download completely free of any spyware," defining spyware as any technology that gathers personal information about the user's computer's configuration and surfing/shopping habits. This may be a controversial assertion, given the differing definitions of the term.
The guideline also asserts that consumers have the right to a download completely free of adware -- another highly-charged word with differering definitions. WeatherBug defines this as software that has no other purpose but to serve ads based on behavioral or other user analytics. WeatherBug itself serves ads along with the weather information it supplies.
The remaining guidelines maintain that consumers have the right to know what effect downloading and using the application might have on their system security and system resources. Also, users have the right to comprehensive information on downloaded applications coming in multiples of two or more, the right to information on the need for updates and the right to opt out of email from the organization offering the software.
By publishing a list of guidelines, WeatherBug is following in the footsteps of Google, which posted a similar list with regard to spyware in May at http://www.google.com/corporate/software_principles.html. The move is also in line with FTC Commissioner Mozelle Thompson's charge to the industry to devise best practices for quelling the adware and spyware problems.
The company decided to create a list of guidelines at least partially because it did not feel enough progress was being made toward establishing industry standards, Celano said.
Delay is understandable, though, given there are many competing interests, he said. "It's like herding cats."
Regarding industry-wide standards go, Celano said, "It will happen in 2017. We can't wait for that.... Software users' rights have been massively abrogated. We'd like to turn the tide. We think it's the right thing to do."
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March 19, 2014