Burns/Wyden Bow Another Anti-Spyware Bill

The SPY BLOCK anti-spyware bill has been revived in the Senate, as lawmakers continue efforts to define and prohibit spyware.

The SPY BLOCK (“Software Principles Yielding Better Levels of Consumer Knowledge”) Act was first introduced by U.S. Senators Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in late 2004. It made it out of committee, but did not reach a vote before the 108th Congress ended. Now, its authors — who also introduced the CAN-SPAM Act — have started again from scratch. SPY BLOCK competes with H.R. bill 29, which is now making its way through the House.

SPY BLOCK contains an exemption for cookies, a point on which H.R. 29 was initially fuzzy, causing some alarm among interactive marketers.

“We are happy to see an exemption for cookies,” said Trevor Hughes, executive director of both the Network Advertising Initiative and the International Association of Privacy Professionals. “We look forward to continuing to work with Senators Burns and Wyden on the SPY BLOCK act.”

In many respects, SPY BLOCK is similar to H.R. 29, which is sponsored by California Representative Mary Bono. It expressly prohibits surreptitious installation of software, deceptive inducements to install software, and software that hinders user efforts to remove it. It disallows software that collects information about an individual, “automatically and without notice to the user,” for purposes other than to improve service. The bill’s language also says purveyors of software must not serve ads without identifying their source.

Hughes said the NAI’s position is that laws are already in place governing deceptive and fraudulent practices, and further legislation is not necessary.

“If we do have to see laws for spyware, we’d prefer specific laws that point to very malicious practices we can all point to and say are bad,” he said.

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