“Spyware” is a new term that describes little programs that report on your web surfing to third parties – usually without your knowledge. They typically arrive on your system as an unwanted component tucked in with something you’re installing on purpose. RealPlayer would install a tempting utility to assist you with downloads – and buried in the fine print was a sentence acknowledging that information about the web sites you visited would be sent to RealNetworks. Comet Cursor did the same thing, as did a download utility from Netscape. Of course, everyone involved swears that the purpose of the spyware is benign and nobody is really looking at the information and nobody knows who you are and everybody in charge of the data they collect is nice to their mother. Sure.
AudioGalaxy is a popular song-swapping service. At different times, AudioGalaxy included spyware with its program; some of it could be avoided during installation if you were very, very alert. But word has emerged of a particularly nasty bit of business that was tucked into the AudioGalaxy download last fall – spyware installed with no notice that not only reported on web surfing, but also gathered information typed into online forms. Like your name, address, and credit card number, for instance.
This isn’t the kind of hot issue that deserves a lot of paranoia, but it’s worth knowing about. The best protection is to keep your eyes open, do custom installs, and watch those checkboxes – don’t install things you don’t expect. There’s links in the article to a program named AdAware that checks for spyware and removes it, if you want to pursue it that far.