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Your privacy on the Internet could be at stake with the increased use of spyware. Spyware is Internet jargon for programming put into your computer to secretly gather information about you and relay it to advertisers and others who might be interested in knowing more personal information about you.

The Problem is Growing

The problem is growing because consumers are often unaware that they are installing this tracking software. 

Spyware programs often are installed surreptitiously just by visiting some Web sites or when you actually install certain software you want.  Many peer-to-peer file sharing programs include what most people would consider to be spyware — even if the programs say they don't.  Many software programs advertised on the Web — like weather trackers, password storage and coupon collectors — also install spyware. 

Getting Rid of Spyware

While spyware programs are worrisome for people who are concerned about keeping private their own personal financial information, passwords, or surfing habits, spyware programs are not illegal.  However, consumers can get rid of this unwanted spyware. In their September 2005 Protect Yourself Online series of articles, rated anti-spyware programs.

New Ideas from Congress

Congress has also considered legislation to combat spyware and create more serious penalties for offenders.  The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) spyware site provides the latest update on spyware policy, and they also list anti-spyware legislation introduced into Congress. 

CDT has testified before the House and Senate on different anti-spyware bills, advocating for more consumer privacy and against spyware makers.  CDT’s latest Congressional anti-spyware testimony (PDF), from January 2005, details the money trail, and explains how spyware makers make money from advertisers and consumers.  Earlier House testimony outlined the problems with defining spyware, and explained the need for broader online privacy legislation.