Should Spyware Distributors Be Locked Up?

William Kovacic, an FTC Commissioner speaking at a Senate Commerce Committee said most spyware distributors “can only be described as vicious organized criminals.” Oh really? From CNET:

“Many of most serious wrongdoers we observed in this area, I believe, are only going to be deterred if their freedom is withdrawn,” so it’s important for the FTC to collaborate on its cases with criminal law enforcement authorities, Kovacic said.

What do you guys think? Lock ’em up? —MEGHANN MARCO

FTC official: Let’s imprison spyware distributors [CNet] (Thanks jpc!)

(Photo: MikeG626)


Edit Your Comment

  1. doppler says:

    …and throw away the key. Thousands of computers vandalized should land your ass in jail.

  2. roche says:

    Lock them up and throw away the key. They contribute nothing to society.

  3. dbeahn says:

    Would we lock someone up if they snatched a purse? Or if they broke into a house and left a camera in the bathroom to spy on you?

    Of course these guys should be locked up – we lock up all other forms of criminals all the time.

  4. joeblevins says:

    And make sure we are talking truely bad Spyware. Do you really think the Comet Cursor people should be locked up? Maybe beaten silly, but locked up?

  5. mac-phisto says:

    @doppler: oh man, the first time i read that, it came out Thousands of computers vandalized should land IN your ass in jail.

    heheh. that’s not a bad idea either.

  6. doppler says:

    @mac-phisto: lulz!

  7. Starfury says:

    I do freelance PC work for extra $$ on the side. Let the spyware makers keep infecting computers! At $50 per hour I’m happy to clean up the systems or reinstall Windows. I’m sure Geek Squad/Firedog and other PC repair places are happy to get the business too.

    Actually: I do think they should get jail time if the spyware is installed w/o informing the user. If the users install stuff w/o reading the disclaimers then I’ll gladly charge to remove/fix the PC.

  8. govkid201 says:


  9. Pigmann says:

    The punishment should fit the crime. I say we surgically implant some sort of device that causes them to slow down and pass-out for no apparent reason. Then fit them for contacts that constantly flash porn advertisements, obscuring their vision.

  10. kenposan says:

    I agree with the majority. Lock them up.

    Starfury: While I agree that people should read the disclaimers for stuff they install, the reality they don’t. And to be honest, they shouldn’t have to read it for spyware clauses.

  11. Athenor says:

    I don’t think this crime is worth jail time, to be honest. Our jails are already clogged up with people who do much less.

    I’d recommend:

    1) Large fines, including compensation to the victims for the cleanup of their computers.

    2) A relinquishing of profits, both from the spyware agent AND the company that employs them.

    3)A static IP with heavy restrictions on access for personal or business use. I know this won’t stop them from getting on comps, but it’s a deterrant.

    4) For truly malicious spyware and viruses/worms, jail time.

  12. junkmail says:

    @Starfury: Agreed. I’d hate to give up the extra cash. :)

  13. Hell yes. It’s criminal trespass. And usually criminal conversion.

  14. mathew says:

    There’s no hope of serious action against spyware makers, because the “legitimate” software industry will never allow it. Companies like Blizzard and Sony and Microsoft want to be able to keep selling spyware on their shrinkwrapped CDs.

  15. sleze69 says:


  16. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    Should Spyware Distributors Be Locked Up?

    No, it’s not worth it. They should be capitally punished instead!

  17. FLConsumer says:

    Lock ’em up for 10 years minimum…we put people away for far lesser crimes.

    As far as the freelancing computer techies, don’t fear, your client base will still find plenty of ways to screw up their PCs… or just wait for Vista to do it for them.

  18. superlayne says:

    @Athenor: I agree, but rather instead of clean up, they should have to supply new computers. Mine has been bugged up really bad a few times, and sometimes, even after you clean it, it still won’t run as well.

  19. SirNuke says:


    I like to joke to my side-repairing business customers: “As much as I dislike Windows XP, it does create a lot of business.”

    But seriously, of course we should lock them up. We should also fine the hell out of companies that pay for illegal adware/spyware services. The damage a single spyware program can create is far beyond the damage caused by most criminals.

  20. tz says:

    XP/Vista is the worst spyware, or what do you call Genuine Advantage and all the tests and callbacks to MotherShip? Installing something including the normal upgrades often have bad effects – is Ballmer going to be frog-marched and locked up too? And they do claim the right to disable your computer or data without recourse.

    You probably clicked on “OK” somewhere in a EULA for the spyware of the type referred to here, GIVING THEM PERMISSION TO RAPE YOUR DATA.

    The FTC should invalidate all click-through licenses or none. The product registration, activation, DRM, and other things that can disable your computer or data are also in the same class – but if they are legal, so is “spyware”.

    There is and can be no legal distinction between all the existing data capture and analysis and functions performed by wanted programs v.s. unwanted programs.

  21. MeOhMy says:

    @segfault: Exactly. Jail is too expensive. Just take them out behind the courthouse and shoot them.

  22. brooklynbs says:

    I’m in favor of mandatory jail sentences, fines, restitution and community service for people convicted of distributing spyware, computer hacking and identity theft.

    One could argue otherwise, but I think such penalties would act as a strong deterrent and recidivism rates would be lower than in violent crime situations. At the end of the day, these crimes by their very nature are premeditated and malicious.

  23. meadowlarkb says:


    William Kovacic has my vote for any election now.

  24. mopar_man says:

    I’m all for locking up spyware distributors. How about locking up spam distributors as well?

  25. eldergias says:

    I would not say we should lock them up solely because of the cost to the public and the overcrowding we already have. There should be extreme fines incurred, restrictions on computer and internet usage, contact information of the offender publicly released to the victims, and forcing the offender to write a program specifically to remove the spyware that he created.

    I also think the same punishment should be applied to spammers, with the addition that the spammer must disclose any and all email addresses they use which will be made available to the victims., along with the frequency of use, and if the spammer lies in this regard they are jailed and fined.

  26. HippieLawChick says:

    Has anyone ever succeeded in a civil lawsuit against these people? Hit them where their money is – the taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay to incarcerate these cockroaches!

  27. etinterrapax says:

    I have some reservations about the jail thing for the same reasons as other people–strain on resources, violent criminals needing it more, etc. But I do think they should be subject to having their assets seized and sold for restitution, and be prevented from trading on those skills in the future. Of course, those ideas are not likely to go anywhere. If jail time is the best we could reasonably accomplish, then it’s the best solution. There’s no legal way to prevent someone from buying and using a computer, and I imagine prisoners have some sort of system to earn internet access, assuming that what they have is worth having. But carrying on criminal activity while incarcerated seems to be frowned upon. I dunno. This was all a lot simpler when people were put in stocks and had dung thrown at them. Cheaper, too.

  28. velocipenguin says:

    Spyware is a serious, serious problem. Imprisoning its makers might help, but those responsible for the nastiest and most invasive spyware are usually based in relatively lawless former Warsaw Pact countries. Those few based in the US, however, should get 10 years’ hard labor with no chance of parole for each machine infected.

  29. crayonshinobi says:

    @mathew: I agree with you in theory, but to my knowledge, Blizzards spyware ceases to function when WoW is uninstalled. Sony and other spyware software not only runs surreptitiously in your PC, but is also next to impossible to remove without advanced knowledge. As for Microsoft, well…other than Linux and OSX…no choice.

    Even so-called legitimate companies include what I would call wasteware into their software. Do the ipod, itunes, and quicktime services NEED to run at startup and run when I’m not using them? No, they only need to run when I start them, so why do they inject themselves into the startup system?

    Jailtime is all fine and dandy, but the powers that be haven’t even defined what is malicious software.

    On a sidenote, if you think Blizzard’s Warden is bad, then never play a game called PSU from Sega. The anti-cheat spyware it installs modifies the kernel, hides system processes, has ring0 rights and doesn’t uninstall with the game.

  30. Plasmafire says:

    I say lock them up, and make them hand write an apology for every single person who has had their computers infested with their spyware.

  31. cynon says:

    I think it’s far too expensive to lock these people up. Just shoot them.

  32. Nygdan says:

    It really depends on what the spyware is doing. Is it slowing down their processing time? THen a large fine seems fair. Is it destroying computers? Then jail time is clearly the way to go. Is it stealing personal information? Then, again, long term jail sentences are fair. If its a company the does little other than send out spyware, then it should be shut down and its executives put in jail.

    The biggest problem I’d think is actually convicting anyone of having sent out malware.

  33. 3ZKL says:

    no touch tone telephones until the day of your 18th birthday. . .