The sad and unjust truth about spyware

By Trip Elix

By 2018, the market estimate for cell phone and tablet applications is expected to be over 17 billion dollars. While most of the industry is being developed by small entrepreneurs, there is a significant inflow of money to those in the information brokerage business writing spyware, a growing development that should concern consumers and anyone assuming online privacy. Consumers are increasingly duped out of sensitive personal information (full name, social security number,  home/business address, phone, email, online shopping, utilities and banking

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transactions, etc.). As a result, they are exposed to deceptive practices by a collection of online applications whose creators, vendors and seemingly legitimate businesses conspire to generate what constitutes an organized criminal enterprise. Spyware is a plague set upon to society by corporations that are scum.

Many online users have come to understand that Spyware is a computer application, which, once installed (usually unwittingly), is designed to spy on and steal information from them. What they may not realize is that there are companies in the United States whose online services purposely include spyware applications to secretly gather (hence steal) customers’ personal information.

The online game market is booming globally with North America in the lead. In 2016, it is estimated that the global games market has reached $99.6 Billion. A Trojan is a program that is often installed along with a game or application on a computer or phablet (phones and tablets). The market for pre-installed applications and games for consumers has become commonplace by well-known major manufacturers and retail establishments.

Computer and phablet manufacturers often pre-install applications from companies that are known for creating spyware. The makers of many such Spyware and Trojan applications are an open secret on the internet. Consumers are often unaware that the preinstalled applications are tracking their habits and activities on the device that they purchased as well as the online connection to the service, be it something as seemingly innocent as a game or as unarguably serious as their banking activities.

In 1986, U.S. Code § 1030 was entered into law. It covers fraud and related activity in connection with computers. Thus, it is also known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). It was introduced shortly after the movie “War Games” was released and shown in theaters creating a worldwide online privacy scare. However, it was written when most online activities involved the government and large companies with computers. In January 2015, President Barack Obama proposed expanding the Computer CFAA and the RICO Acts in his proposed Modernizing Law Enforcement Authorities to Combat Cyber Crime. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as the RICO, is a federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.

Some of the higher profile cases that the government has prosecuted used the CFAA including the case of Aaron Swartz and one of the pending charges on Edward Snowden. Arron Swartz was an internet pioneer and charged with the act after he systematically copied federal court records though they are generally considered open to the public. On the other hand, Edward Snowden disclosed NSA records and remains wanted by the government.

While the CFAA represents an effort to combat online theft of private information, it is often misused by prosecutors to pursue individuals and not the corporate entities that support and exploit online identity theft at a more reprehensible level. Thus, they typically seek to pile on potential jail time for individual computer “hackers” for relatively minor charges in order to deter such individual activities. As a result, defendants often plead guilty rather than risk trial and serious sentences. However, in the pursuit of individual offenders, our legal system, glosses over the crimes committed by spyware vendors and the large corporations who conspire for even larger profits. Simply put, the very idea that a company can install an application, spy on and steal individual’s computer activity should be prosecuted at least as vigorously as individual offenders, and because of corporations’ capacity to impact a larger number of consumers, their offenses should be prosecuted to an even greater extent.

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Alarmingly, at this time, it appears that authorities are simply unable or perhaps unwilling to close the circle and go after the real kingpins of online deception and crimes against innocent consumers – corporate America. It is crucial that online users become aware of these practices, better protect themselves and in particular, demand changes in our current online corporate culture.

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