Argument between Spybot maker, Symantec heats up

A simmering disagreement between the David and the Goliath of security developers, both of which are members of the Anti-Spyware Coalition, has reached a boil. The dispute prompts questions of how nicely two competitors should be expected to play with each other and whether your security software will continue to work together.

Safer Networking, developer of the free Spybot-Search & Destroy antispyware program, said Friday that it will bring a motion in front of the Anti-Spyware Coalition (ASC) to expel Symantec, which develops Norton-branded products. If the motion is denied, then Safer Networking said that it would most likely leave the ASC. The ASC is an organization of security companies, researchers, and advocacy groups focused on defining and controlling spyware.

Spybot accuses Symantec

According to Safer Networking, Symantec had posted in December 2005 (and later removed) a support document listing Spybot as a possible reason for corrupted Norton Ghost backups. Similarly, Safer Networking also reported that Norton Internet Security 2007 recommends removal of Spybot. In Friday's press release, Safer Networking accused Symantec of "practices of illegal improper competition and libel."

While installing my review copy of Norton Internet Security 2007, I found that Symantec's software recommended that I uninstall not only Spybot but also Webroot Spy Sweeper antispyware software.

When I declined the uninstall recommendation, I was able to continue installing Norton Internet Security 2007, during which process Spybot detected multiple changes to the Registry and asked to me allow or reject each one of them.

Spybot creator Patrick Kolla said that Safer Networking is working on a Spybot update that would whitelist Norton Internet Security 2007 and allow the installation without the multiple warning pop-ups.

Symantec, who was unavailable for further comment, responded in a statement: "Symantec has been working with Safer Networking and will continue to work with them directly and through industry organizations to reach a consensus on the best way to prevent software conflicts-which are common due to the nature of security software programs."

Conficting interests

Now it's true that security products, which can run at deep levels of your system, can conflict with each other. In fact, PC World recommends that you don't run two competing antivirus products, although we have generally found it OK to run two antispyware scanners. But this issue raises the question of how far a company should go in recommending that you uninstall a specific competitor?

The Anti-Spyware has no guidelines on this. "Many of the members of the ASC compete with one another," said ASC spokesperson Dave McGuire. "The coalition itself hasn't seen fit to be involved with their competitive process with one another."

It also seems unlikely that Safer Networking's will succeed in expelling Symantec from the ASC.

"The standard in the ASC for decision is unanimous consent," said McGuire. In other words, all members have to agree to accept a member and conversely to boot one out of the organization. "Both of these companies involved in this are in good standing," McGuire added.

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Narasu Rebbapragada

Digital World (US)

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