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Spyware Worries Web Users

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NEW YORK The threat of spyware has caused consumers to be warier of music-downloading programs, e-mail attachments and some Web sites, according to a report.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that spyware concerns have caused a shift in Internet user behavior for 91 percent of Web visitors. Over 80 percent told Pew they have stopped opening e-mail attachments; 48 percent do not visit Web sites they think might install spyware; and 25 percent have ceased using peer-to-peer networks.

Pew surveyed 2,001 adults for the study.

Pew found many were unclear of how it differed from adware, software that serves pop-up ads based on user Web behavior. Just over half of all those surveyed said they understood what adware is. Of those reporting they had adware installed on their computers, 90 percent said software makers should provide better disclosure that adware will come with downloads.

While adware makers point to disclosures in license agreements as proof consumers consent to the software, Pew found small numbers of consumers read disclaimers. Only 25 percent said they always read disclaimers before downloading software, while 53 percent answered they read terms sometimes to never.

Some top adware makers have made efforts to address their critics, hiring privacy officers and clarifying their disclosure practices. The space has received a dose of legitimacy recently, due to reports that Microsoft is considering a $500 million bid to buy leading adware maker Claria and WhenU.com attaining $15 million in venture capital financing.