Enlisting CRM to Fight Spyware
Malicious applications are challenging the Internet's integrity as a business tool.
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Spyware is one of the most important issues threatening the CRM community today. There are few things more likely to evoke a visceral response from a soccer mom than spyware, those invisible programs that can cripple a computer. Enterprises of any size that depend on fast, cheap, Internet transport to communicate with customers should also be concerned. Often a spyware problem manifests as slow performance--users first suspect a hardware problem, so they call their PC vendor's support line. "It is a big problem for us," says Jennifer Davis, a spokeswoman for Dell Computer, "because customers are not getting as much out of their technology investments." It's also a growing drain on resources. According to Davis, Dell first noticed an uptick in customer service calls related to spyware in August 2003. That problem mushroomed into a service nightmare that last year was responsible for 12 percent of calls into Dell's service center, and as much as 20 percent of calls into the company's help desk. To respond to the problem Dell partnered with the Internet Education Foundation late last year to educate consumers about protecting themselves from spyware and other malicious applications. Too often unsuspecting users download spyware that is embedded in so-called free software from a variety of sources on the Internet. A license agreement frequently pops up in a small box offering some bland language near the end of the pop-up about granting access--but who reads it? The user readily accepts the downloaded software, spyware and all. Now the federal government is getting involved. HR29, a bill sponsored by Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA), proposes to eliminate spyware, browser hijacking, and a host of other nasty practices that leaves users with nonfunctional computers. I have read HR29 and it is a very good attempt: Not only does it tighten the screws on spyware vendors, but it also tackles related problems like browser hijacking. So why is spyware such a big deal for CRM? Spyware compromises the Internet. If people are afraid of getting ripped off when they surf, they will be less likely to use it. Many enterprises depend on this reliable, low-cost medium for legitimate sales and marketing. Their business plans count on the Internet being trusted and accepted, and if were proven unreliable it could cause significant rethinking and some dislocation. More important, spyware prevents its victims from getting optimal use from their technology investments, and that's something we should all be up in arms about. Many companies are now offering antispyware software to protect individuals, which helps. But there is already a bewildering array of software protection on the market, from firewalls to virus scanners to spyware removal programs and a good deal in between--enough to confuse any user. These protections will not, however, solve the larger problem, because some will be more effective than others, turning Internet security into an oxymoron. We need to look beyond the engineering solutions and recognize that spyware is first and foremost a business problem, because it challenges the integrity of the Internet as a 21st-century business tool. It must be solved with a business solution. That's why HR29 is so important. It sets a standard for proper behavior on the Internet, a standard that can be expanded and improved upon as successive generations of technologies and users come to rely more heavily on the information superhighway. And that is precisely why technology companies--especially CRM companies--ought to be tripping over themselves to endorse and support swift passage of this bill. It is the ultimate act of customer service that has long-term benefits for the health of our technology industries. Denis Pombriant is the founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. He can be reached at denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com
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