A case in Connecticut has exposed the legal dangers of not protecting your computer against spyware, as well as our vulnerability at the hands of incompetent law-enforcement officers.
Teacher Julie Amero found herself in a nightmare after spyware on her school computer popped up pornographic images in front of students. Instead of realising this was spyware at work, the state accused her of putting them there and forcing her pupils to watch.
In June of 2007, Judge Hillary B. Strackbein tossed out Amero’s conviction on charges that she intentionally caused a stream of “pop-up” pornography on the computer in her classroom and allowed students to view it. Confronted with evidence compiled by forensic computer experts, Strackbein ordered a new trial, saying the conviction was based on “erroneous” and “false information.”
But since that dramatic reversal, local officials, police and state prosecutors were unwilling to admit that a mistake may have been made — even after computer experts from around the country demonstrated that Amero’s computer had been infected by “spyware.”
It seems the nightmare may be coming to an end, but not without a price. She’s had to admit to one misdemeanour charge and surrender her teaching licence. She’s also been hospitalized for stress and heart problems.
The lesson? This was a school computer, and it seems the school failed to install the necessary updates and protection to prevent the spyware from loading itself. That’s probably something Amero should be exploring with her lawyers.
But there’s a bigger issue. We need, as individuals, to take more reponsibility for the computers we use—to learn the basics of protecting them from attacks, and to be able to at least identify what the problem is when something like this happens. It may have taken a techie guy to clean the computer in this case (I admit spyware is really hard to get rid of) but knowing, roughly, what the problem is should be the bare minimum of our working knowledge of the computers we use.
Connecticut drops felony charges against Julie Amero, four years after her arrest – Rick Green | CT Confidential
Claria, formerly Gator and allegedly the brief focus of Microsoft interest, has announced it is working on a new search engine technology which “goes far beyond analyzing links to pages and hypertext matching, and instead evaluates how consumers actually interact with search results when they are seeking information on the Web”.
I don’t claim to really understand what they’re doing here, but the press release seems to suggest that Claria would both collect extensive user data but also offer that aggregated data to users so they can better judge search results: Claria’s press release is here:
“Even in this early stage of technology, this represents a clear ‘step function’ improvement in search methodology and relevancy,” said Jeff McFadden, president and CEO of Claria Corporation. “Over time and with more users, these types of personalization technologies will allow consumers a richer, more customized online experience. For example, a college student and a business executive who are both searching for ‘hotels in China’ would appreciate vastly different results. Ultimately, this is the power that personalization can provide – with technology automatically customizing information for the consumer.”
Could be interesting, could be creepy. Certainly personalized search is the next hilltop to scale, and this makes some sense for Claria, who need to get out of the hole they’re in.
WhenU, now known as Claria, has won what it calls an “important decision for the entire Internet industry” in its motion to enjoin the Utah Spyware Control Act, passed in March. WhenU had argued the Act “affects legitimate Internet advertising companies and therefore violates the First Amendment and dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, among other laws”. (Here’s a CNET story on the verdict.)
If I understand the ruling correctly (and this is based largely on Ben Edelman’s assistance), the judge has ruled that, in this particular law, Utah was unconstitutional in trying to limit popups, while it was within the constitution in trying to outlaw spyware — or more specifically, software that is installed without a licence and lack a proper uninstall procedure. As the judge did no want to break the act in half he ruled in favour of a preliminary injunction for WhenU. Ben, who works as a consultant for the Utah government, reckons WhenU could lose on appeal, since under Utah law, the judge “is obliged to regard the act as ‘severable'” — in other words, that he can keep parts and discard parts.
Avi Naider, WhenU’s Chief Executive Officer, meanwhile, is celebrating his victory. “Spyware is a problem and we want to put an end to it,” he says in a press release. “WhenU supports appropriate anti-spyware legislation at the federal level, but unfortunately Utah’s Act also impairs legitimate Internet advertising.”
Bad news for those of you who hate pop-up ads
: A U.S. federal judge has rejected a lawsuit by truck and trailer rental company U-Haul which sought to ban software by Internet advertising company WhenU that launched rival pop-up ads when customers access U-Haul’s Web site, Reuters reports
The judge said the ads don’t violate the law because WhenU’s software didn’t copy or use U-Haul’s trademark or copyright material, and because computer users themselves had chosen to download the pop-up software. He acknowledged that pop-up ads are often troublesome and annoying. “Alas, we computer users must endure pop-up advertising along with her ugly brother unsolicited bulk e-mail, ‘spam’, as a burden of using the Internet,” he wrote. I don’t want to be rude to a judge, but I just don’t buy that argument.
An excellent, and damning, article by Robert X. Cringely
on Microsoft shenanigans, this time in court over a lawsuit with Burst.com. Read the whole thing: In short, Microsoft appear to have been caught deleting emails that could be evidence. The judge has ordered Microsoft to produce the missing messages.
Here’s Robert’s conclusion: “What happens next with Microsoft and Burst is interesting. In a few weeks, Microsoft will either find the messages or not. If they do find the messages and produce them, whatever is in those messages becomes part of the case. If they don’t find the messages and the case goes to trial, the judge will tell the jury that Microsoft deliberately withheld and destroyed evidence. Juries are generally unimpressed by such behavior.”
From here it looks like Microsoft not playing by the rules to sideline a tiny competitor anxious to sell up. This does not sound unusual. Watch this space. Or more correctly, this space