July 29, 2004, 12:00 AM

The shoot-out over spyware

(Page 3 of 3)

The wild West

While consumers complain about cascading pop-ups, Leong points out that a number of commonly used applications already have advertising formats embedded in them. For example, the free version of AOL Instant Messenger has a window that sometimes displays ads. “No one objects to that. What people object to is advertising that interferes with the way they work,” she says.

So whether adware is ultimately deemed a questionable business tactic or simply a new one that the industry will adapt to will also be determined in the long run by what consumers will accept. That will be reinforced by legal and legislative action. How quickly that happens and the particulars of the outcome depend on the ongoing shootout among competing interests seeking to stake claims in an uncharted online frontier. “In some ways,” says Schwegman, “the Internet is still the wild, wild West.”

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