editor, WindowsSecrets.com

Symantec Corp. is seeking a ruling from a California court to support its right to detect and identify as adware certain program files from New York-based Hotbar.com Inc. – something Hotbar.com is protesting.

Symantec’s suit, filed on Tuesday with the U.S. District Court of Northern District of California, San Jose Division, is not seeking any damages from Hotbar. Instead, the suit asks the court to allow Symantec to tell the computer users these Hotbar.com programs are adware and possibly pose a security risk.

However, Hotbar is fighting Symantec’s move to classify its files as adware.

Hotbar’s programs allow users to customize and enhance Web and online communications with such things as toolbars and skins for Internet Explorer, Outlook and Outlook Express. Adware companies are often very well financed and so they can afford to take legal steps…Brian Livingston>Text In its suit, Symantec argues that the programs in question “also contain computer files that facilitate the delivery and display of Internet advertisements, including “pop-up” advertisements.” In addition, the suit alleges Hotbar programs also enable tracking of a user’s online activities with a view to delivering targeted pop-up ads.

Joy Cartun, senior director of legal affairs for Symantec in Cupertino, Calif. said Hotbar contacted his company several months ago about Symantec’s claim and indicated it may sue Symantec over its action.

Cartun said in cases like these three counterarguments are commonly advanced by companies like Hotbar. “They will either say [the files in question] are not adware at all, or that we are not detecting all the adware out there and therefore it is unfair to detect us, or [our] definition [of adware] is wrong.”

Cartun said Hotbar was adopting the “speeding ticket” defence, where the company argues that since others are doing similar things, it is unfair for Hotbar to be singled out.

Hotbar’s legal representatives or executives could not be reached for comment.

Brian Livingston, editor of the Seattle-based WindowsSecrets.com said adware firms have become more litigious, especially about companies that try to remove their products from systems or classify them as adware.

“It is a real problem for companies that are trying to protect user’s PCs,” Livingston said. “Adware companies are often very well financed and so they can afford to take legal steps that a small anti-spyware company or individuals who identify spyware cannot afford to defend.”

Livingston has little sympathy for companies that produce adware. He says adware inherently tries to trick people into installing the program on systems with promises of benefits. But in the end, “all they get is ads or have their behaviour tracked across the Web, or their information sold to other companies.”

Livingston said anti-adware and anti-spyware programs should be seen as super-sophisticated uninstall programs as many adware and spyware programs do not come with easily usable built-in ways of removing them from systems.

Related links:

Symantec adds devices to filter e-mail

Symantec: Hackers turn attention to Mozilla browsers

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