updated 3/22/2006 9:42:42 AM ET 2006-03-22T14:42:42

A corporate-backed watchdog group that monitors software for deceptive and abusive practices on Wednesday named a widely used file-sharing program and three other applications as violators of its guidelines.

Kazaa, which its producer Sharman Networks claims is the most popular program for sharing files over the Internet, "misleadingly advertises itself as spyware-free, does not completely remove all components during the uninstall process, interferes with computer use, and makes undisclosed modifications to other software," according to a report from the group StopBadware.org.

The group, started by researchers from Harvard and Oxford universities, also named a video download manager distributed by Movieland.com, a spyware removal program from SpyAxe.com and Waterfalls 3 by Screensaver.com.

"We chose four quite common applications to highlight, and we have found that in each instance the applications do things to violate the guidelines," said John Palfrey, a professor at Harvard Law School.

The report, the first to be released since StopBadware.org announced its formation in January, comes as critics say that spyware and other abusive software has emerged as a top scourge of Internet use.

More than 59 million people in the United States have computers with some form of software that hampers the machine's performance, transmits private user information, deceives the user about how the software behaves or violates other guidelines, according to StopBadware.org, citing research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Americans spend more than $1 billion a year fixing their computers and protecting their identities online, the group said, citing the same study.

Kazaa and the programs distributed by Movieland.com, and Screensaver.com fail to disclose that they are bundled with additional software, according to Wednesday's report. They also modify other software already installed on the computer without warning, the group said.

Kazaa and two other programs also are hard to completely uninstall, StopBadware.org claimed.

Officials from Sharman Networks and Freeze.com, the owner of Screensaver.com contested the report's findings.  "We disagree with it," said Felicity Campbell, a spokeswoman for Sharman Networks. "We really don't have sinister desires to get into people's computers and stay there."

She said all Kazaa files are removed when a user uninstalls the program, contradicting a claim in the report.  A glitch in Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system gives the appearance the programs are still installed, she said.

Richard Weber, president of Freeze.com, said his company's practices recently got a clean bill of health by a consultant from Chapell & Associates, which advises businesses on privacy and data collection policies.

"StopBadware is trying to set a different boundary than what is common in the industry," Weber said.

Representatives from Movieland.com and Spyaxe.com didn't respond to e-mail and phone messages.  StopBadware.org receives funding from Google Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group Ltd.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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