Hate pop-up ads? Hate the idea of spyware snooping around, knowing what you're doing online?

A bill to curb those activities is before Gov. Olene Walker, but representatives of several tech industry groups on Thursday urged her to veto it. They contend that HB323, the Spyware Control Act, will actually unintentionally hurt both consumers and businesses.

HB323 makes it illegal to create or install spyware, which is software that monitors Internet activity and sends that information elsewhere, usually without the user being aware of it or consenting to it.

But the tech groups contend the definition of spyware under the bill is too broad.

Steve DelBianco, vice president of public policy for the Association for Competitive Technology, consisting mostly of smaller information technology companies, said something indeed needs to be done to stop spyware from sneaking into computers and collecting information that is relayed and to stop spyware from being so difficult to remove from computers.

"Spyware is a legitimate concern, but this bill is just a wrong way to go," he said.

The group representatives said HB323 is well-meaning in aiming to cure some ills, but they want to work with the governor and legislative leaders to develop alternatives. Plus, they said, the federal government is looking into the matter.

Mark Bohannon, general counsel and senior vice president of public policy for the Software & Information Industry Association, said the bill was rushed through the Legislature and that industry groups became aware of it Feb. 25.

Utah, he said, is the first state to pass such a law, but the state is "moving too far without looking at what the issues are." He's afraid the bill will become a model for other states to follow.

The bill was prompted by Draper-based 1-800 Contacts Inc.'s problems with other companies' pop-up ads when people tried to access the company's Web site. The pop-ups looked as if they were generated by 1-800 Contacts but instead represented competition.

The tech group reps said the bill could result in:

• Parents being less effective at controlling Internet content seen by their children. Parental control software would be spyware, and the bill would create liability for providers of filtering software, they said, adding that HB323 conflicts with other legislation that requires public libraries to use filtering software to block pornographic Web sites in order to get state funds.

• Criminals being aware of any law enforcement attempts to monitor their illegal online activity and disabling that monitoring.

• Companies being unable to send out targeted pop-up ads, the revenues from which some companies use to provide free content to computer users.

• Spyware disclosures that would be lengthy and confusing, hurting businesses and not helping consumers. The tech group contends such disclosures will clog up the computer screen and delay software installations and updates.

• A plethora of wasteful lawsuits. One example would be if a pop-up ad covered up another ad, leaving the company with the underlying ad able to sue the pop-up advertiser or the content provider. Instant-message senders could be sued if their message blocks a Web site ad; likewise for eBay in sending auction alerts.

The reps also question how effective HB323 would be, because troublemakers would find ways to get consumers' consent on spyware activity.

"Our concern is because the bill is focused on outlawing technology as opposed to going after bad actions, this bill is going to have very serious unintended consequences that will directly affect the ability of parents to control what their kids can watch on the Internet, the ability of consumers and businesses to rely on effective antivirus and security software, and to, in fact, prevent Utah businesses from benefiting from online advertising-based activities," Bohannon said.

"This bill however misses the mark because it simply puts a big circle around certain technology that will be subject to lawsuits and inadvertently puts its arms around some technologies that are very beneficial to Utah consumers and businesses today," DelBianco said.

The reps say consumers already have an easy, quick way to stop pop-up ads by using tools on task bars, and states already have laws regarding unfair and deceptive trade practices to battle the look-alike pop-ups that try to steal sales from Web site companies.

"The states possess the power to enforce them, and they need to enforce them rather than rely upon some private right of action, some lawsuits, that target deep pockets and small businesses, leaving the bad actors unscathed," DelBianco said.

Bohannon scoffed at the idea that HB323 is a consumer-oriented bill.

"This (bill) is about getting businesses the tools to sue each other," he said. "It's not about helping those people most affected by the frustration of pop-up ads or bad consumer-protection practices. It's corporate protection, not consumer protection."


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com