Security Strategy, Plan, Budget

Anti-spy group outlines cookie principles

The Web Analytics Association (WAA) has adopted an anti-spyware statement of principles to help differentiate honest web analytics vendors from deceptive spyware makers.

The move was endorsed by an overwhelming vote of more than 750 of WAA's corporate and professional members.

Bryan Eisenberg, co-founder and chief persuasion officer of Future Now and chairman of the WAA board of directors, said: "Spyware is software installed without consumer notice, choice and/or recourse. It is often used for the purpose of engaging in practices that are deceptive and/or of criminal intent."

Ben Isaacson, the privacy and compliance leader for CheetahMail, an Experian Company, added: "Unethical spyware purveyors are giving honest web analytics vendors a black eye. Web analytics vendors develop and make use of internet-based tools that measure and track online behavior. Certain components of these tools, such as cookies and web beacons, are unfortunately being confused with spyware software. But cookies and web beacons are not downloadable software and therefore cannot execute malicious programs on a user's machine. As such, they pose no deceptive threat whatsoever to online users."

The summary of the WAA's anti-spyware statement of principles includes:

1. Members of the WAA will not engage in the deceptive practices that characterize spyware and those who purvey spyware.

2. The policies and practices of WAA members are open to third-party, independent review.

3. We believe defining and targeting deceptive practices, as opposed to focusing on the technology, will ultimately lead to better protection of the online user.

4. We are committed to educating the public about the benefits of cookies and web beacons, and dispelling the myth that these are spyware.

5. The WAA encourages U.S. federal legislation to establish an anti-deceptive practices (spyware) regulatory framework that is stringent, comprehensive and uniform.

Andrew Edwards, managing partner of technology leaders and a director of the WAA, said, "Some anti-spyware software vendors target technology such as cookies. We feel that this is not only misleading but may needlessly alarm and confuse consumers. Our members rely on cookies to legitimately measure the effectiveness of their websites. Anti-spyware software vendors should stop attempting to sell software by creating a false sense of fear around cookies."

Jay McCarthy, co-chair of the WAA's Advocacy Committee, said: "We fully recognize the dangers posed by deceptive practices in a medium as pervasive and complex as the internet. We must have a proper response while not damaging the ecosystem which drives innovation and funds the free content we all enjoy. We work hard to strike that balance and keep our principles and definitions simple."

The WAA is a not-for-profit professional organization dedicated to promoting the understanding of web analytics through education, advocacy, standards, research and technology. Its members include CoreMetrics, IBM, Omniture, Google Analytics, Walt Disney Internet Group, WebSideStory, WebTrends and Yahoo while total membership in the organization exceeds 750 individuals and companies.

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