Monitoring software and spyware both accomplish similar tasks: reporting on your computer to an outside source. The key difference lies in consent.
When you typically hear about spyware, it’s never a good thing. Spyware is almost always associated with hackers trying to steal information, computers running slow as slugs, as well as other negative connotations. Spyware’s most obvious reason for existing is that it’s made to collect information. Monitoring software, such as the software kits that are used by employers to track employee internet surfing, is also used to collect information.
Both spyware and monitoring software run in the backgrounds of the computer that they are installed on. Both often will collect the same information, including passwords, emails sent, and sites visited. Both might even have the same side effect of a slower computer.
So, what’s the difference?
Legally speaking, most of the difference is in how they are used, and whether or not they do damage to the computer. If the software damages the computer in the way that a virus would, then it’s spyware. However, not all spyware does this. Aside from that, the bulk of whether or not something can be labeled as spyware rests on whether or not the person who owns the computer (and/or uses the computer) has consented to the monitoring.
In other words, if you didn’t express consent with having the software installed on a computer that you are using, it’s spyware. In most states, business owners have to get consent from their employees in order to use monitoring software on their gear. Not doing so can leave a company owner open to a lawsuit, as the law would likely view employees as victims of spyware.
Obviously, there are some other slight nuances with spyware – at least when it comes to how most people view it. With typical spyware, people don’t consent or don’t knowingly consent to its installation. It just magically gets bundled up with a bunch of other programs that you downloaded, and once you’ve found it, it’s too late. To add insult to injury, the vast majority of spyware programs are also quite difficult to uninstall without the help of an antimalware kit.
While we’re not going to go into whether or not installing monitoring software is ethical, we are going to say that spyware is unethical by definition. If you aren’t giving consent to be spied on, it’s not ethical. And, most spyware is also malicious in nature, which means that if spyware does end up on your computer, it’s probably not there to see whether you’re just browsing Facebook.
Most spyware installations can be prevented. In order to prevent damage to your company, your best bet is to install an antimalware or antispyware kit on every computer you own. And, if you want to take your security up a notch, it’s also pretty smart to talk to an IT professional about how you can make your network safer than ever. After all, you can never be too careful with your information, or your customer’s information.