California Anti-Spyware Bills Progress

Two California anti-spyware bills made progress this week, one sailing through the full Senate and the other gaining committee approval in the Assembly.

Consumers are pressuring lawmakers to take action as concern about the spyware [define] issue grows. 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.

SB 1436, introduced by Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Los Angeles, was approved 36-2 by the California Senate. The bill requires software makers and Web site operators to disclose whether they put spyware on a user’s computer and to describe what it does. It also sets forth a private right of action by which a consumer could seek damages of $1,000 per incident and applicable attorney’s fees. (The amount is subject to reduction by a court for specified reasons. )

The bill will next go to the Assembly, where it will be considered by at least one policy committee before hitting the Assembly floor, an aide said.

AB 2787, introduced by Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, won approval from the Assembly Appropriations Committee Wednesday, and will be heard next week by the full Assembly, according to an aide.

A compromise was reached with regard to AB 2787, which now would prohibit the use of a user’s computer without the user’s consent via the download of an unauthorized program. It would also bar software designed to foil consumers’ attempts to uninstall it. A former element of the bill barring the surreptitious collection of data about a user unrelated to the purpose of the software was dropped, an aide said.

Lawmakers felt this element might be too broadly interpreted, according to the aide.

Other lawmakers are taking action on the spyware issue as well. U.S. Sens. Conrad Burns and Barbara Boxer recently introduced legislation to prohibit spyware, adware and other intrusive software. The proposed act, known as SPYBLOCK, would make it illegal to install software on a user’s computer without notice and consent.

The Federal Trade Commission is also examining the matter. The FTC held an April hearing in Washington, D.C. focusing on adware and spyware. The goal of the hearing, “Monitoring Software on Your PC: Spyware, Adware, and Other Software,” was to initiate a dialogue on the subject and move toward possible solutions.

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