Voluntary Spyware: Trading Privacy for Safety

Like being watched? Market research firms such as Comscore Inc. offer Web surfers free virus scan and Web accelerator software in exchange for permission to watch their every move, and as many as 1 million Americans have taken the bait. After downloading the researchware, users surf the Web as usual. The researchware tracks where you go online, how long you stay on each page, even where you click on the page. This allows researchware companies to provide their clients with “information about industry trends and preferences of consumer segments,” says Dan Hess of comScore, which sells the information it collects to the likes of Best Buy Co. and Nestlé USA Inc. But according to Larry Ponemon, of the Ponemon Institute, consumers are putting their personal data at risk. “People forget they’re part of the [researchware] audience, which gives the company more accurate data on consumer behavior,” but users “may not understand the risks involved.”

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