A prominent Internet safety organization and leading computer-maker Dell Inc. launched a campaign Friday to help consumers fend off "spyware," software that can cause sluggish computer performance or popup ads and secretly monitor the activities of Internet users.
The non-profit Internet Education Foundation published on its Web site, www.getnetwise.org, video tutorials and tips for Internet users to keep spyware off computers and detect any spyware already installed. It also directs visitors to dozens of free and commercial tools to easily remove spyware.
The foundation's members include America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp. and AT&T.
The Federal Trade Commission, which filed its first federal court case last week over spyware, praised the new campaign. FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz called spyware a "growing and pernicious problem" and promised that the agency will act against those who distribute it.
Spyware describes a broad category of software that can be installed through unsafe e-mails or Web pages and sometimes is bundled with other software that consumers download and install, such as file-sharing programs popular for downloading music and movies illegally. It frequently slows a computer's performance, displays annoying popup advertisements and quietly monitors which Web sites a consumer visits.
Dell said it was compelled to join the new campaign by a dramatic rise in support calls from frantic customers upset by sluggish computers or disrupted Web surfing. Dell's chief marketing officer, Mike George, said spyware is the culprit behind 20 percent of problems affecting Dell customers who call for help -- up from 2 percent of calls just 18 months ago.
Dell tells customers it's not responsible under warranties for fixing problems traced to spyware, but technicians will help remove such software for $39. "You're responsible for how you use your computer and what Web sites you visit," George said. He said Dell helped sponsor the new campaign because it fears consumer unhappiness over spyware could limit future sales and broader adoption of new technology.
The House this month passed two bills against spyware.
The "Internet Spyware Prevention Act," which passed 415-0, would give the Justice Department $10 million to crack down on companies and others that secretly install spyware and those who attempt to trick victims into disclosing personal details and financial information in e-mail scams popularly known as "phishing."
The "Spy Act," which passed 399-1, would add hefty civil penalties over the use of spyware.