Spyware is the current BusinessWeek cover story, The Plot to Hijack Your Computer. The technology is now officially mainstream.
Spyware, or “adware” in the terminology of its proponents, figures out our preferences by tracking what we do on the web, and then presents us with tailored pop-up ads. It got a bad name because the software often installs without a user knowing about it, monitors user behavior and relays it back to base, and sometimes disables PCs in the course of trying to disable competing spyware programs.
However, spyware/adware part of the future personal computing because it’s a way to make the dream of “ad supported software” come true. BusinessWeek reports that a company with access to 10 million computers can make about $100,000 a day; that’s 1c/day/computer, or $3/year. According to Om Malik writing for Business 2.0 magazine, Google makes around $16 per user per year in advertising; another $3 would be a 30% increase.
Spyware will be tamed over the next few years, and its technologies incorporated into Yahooglesoft products. If Yahoo, Google and Microsoft were as savvy about regulatory politics as the phone companies, they’d be in Washington DC and Brussels right now trying to craft safe harbor regulations which would allow them to take this technology into the mainstream while marginalizing the cowboys. And consumers will probably lap it up: they don’t like being spied on, but they don’t like paying for stuff even more strongly.