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Watch the Cockroaches Scurry

I discuss a new effort to publicize spyware and its creators.

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One of the most difficult questions form me to answer is “how do I know if this download is safe?” Common advice is to only download from reputable companies, but the majority of computer users are simply not aware enough of the industry to know what is or is not a reputable company. Even internet searches on a company’s reputation … any company’s reputation … is likely to turn up widely varying and contradictory opinions that the average computer user simply cannot properly evaluate.

Aside from simply making sure that they run up-to-date virus and spyware scans, what’s a poor user to do?

Enter “”. The goal of this new project is to “…provide reliable, objective information about downloadable applications in order to help consumers to make better choices about what they download on to their computers.” The site continues, “We aim to become a central clearinghouse for research on badware and the bad actors who spread it, and to become a focal point for developing collaborative, community-minded approaches to stopping badware.”

With both Harvard Law School and Oxford University behind it, it’s an interesting concept that could work. By providing a presumably objective middleman, has an opportunity to truly become an asset to the community.


There are two potential problems: one political, the other practical. has yet to name names. If and when they do, will they have the backbone to stand by their statements in the face of legal and perhaps other challenges?

The other problem is simply that it relies on users being proactive. It depends on users actively seeking out information about what they’re about to download and install on their machines. In my experience here at Ask Leo!, that’s a dangerous assumption. While some badware will, in fact, suffer from the bad publicity, the fact is average users cannot resist the latest download that promises something exciting – like the dancing bunnies I mentioned in a previous podcast.

It seems a promising part of a grander scheme to identify and shine the light on malware, spyware and other malicious software creators, but I believe it must go further and include other steps that users need not be aware of to be protected.

In the mean time, it’ll be interesting to watch the cockroaches scurry – let’s hope the light is bright enough.

I’d love to hear what you think. Visit, and enter 9734 in the go to article number box. Leave a comment, I read them all. And while you’re there: sign up for my free weekly newsletter.

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3 comments on “Watch the Cockroaches Scurry”

  1. Check out siteadvisor ( for someone who is doing something similar. I suspect they are safe, since instead of calling anything “badware”, they just report on the number of emails signing up for a site generated, or how much behind-the-scenes software got installed, all of which are objective measurements. Also, if you are truly concerned about this, you can install a small piece of software (“but who watches the watchers?”) that will show an indication of how irritating dealing with a particular site can be. Better, by clicking on the indicator, you can read more about the site.

    (I am not associated with siteadvisor, but have found their software to be quite wonderful.)


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