Ganging Up on Badware

Harvard and Oxford team with Google, Lenovo and Sun for online neighborhood watch.
Good neighbors keep an eye on each other and spread the word on dodgy lurkers on the corner. Sun Microsystems, Google and Lenovo want to do the same on the Internet.

They're backing Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Oxford University's Oxford Internet Institute in, an initiative that aims to act as a "Neighborhood Watch" campaign for consumers to guard against dangerous.

But some think they're trying to reinvent the wheel. will be an information clearinghouse dedicated to fighting badware, defined as … well, that's one of the first things the group plans to figure out.

It will write standards and testing procedures to define what badware is, a topic of much contention.

In September 2005, independent spyware consultant Ben Edelman accused Yahoo of funding spyware by distributing search marketing ads to Claria, eXact and DirectRevenue. These companies provide software that shows ads based on the Web sites a user visits. Edelman categorizes those companies as spyware distributors because he's documented cases in which their applications have been downloaded without user consent.

The three companies say they follow privacy guidelines, and any surreptitious downloads are the work of affiliate distributors that they can't control.

Edelman also accused Google of failing to fix a flaw in the coding of its Blogger blogging platform that made its blogs a haven for spyware and adware.

Once it defines badware, will even call out what it considers the worst offenders in monthly reports it plans to publish.

"We believe if we publish this data and work with larger communities to generate more, we'll have opportunities to try new and different things," said Luis Villa, senior technical analyst for the Berkman Center and project manager for "All the current models for spyware rely on you trusting a single source and their assessment of whether something is spyware."

Harvard Law professor John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center, and Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law and Oxford University, are co-directors. Consumer Reports WebWatch is serving as an unpaid special advisor, and the advisory board includes Esther Dyson, editor of the "Release 1.0" technology newsletter, and Vint Cerf, one of the developers of the TPC/IP protocol, chair of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Google's Internet evangelist.

Ultimately, the group wants to preserve personal choice in software, avoiding government regulation.

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