It's the latest computer security problem to attract the attention of Congress: spyware, or software designed to collect computer users' personal data without their knowledge. Little known a few years ago, spyware is now so common that many educators and other internet users consider it the biggest problem since spam--and now Congress also is investigating.

Secretly piggybacking on downloaded internet software, spyware transmits information about computer usage and generates pop-up advertisements and other annoyances. It often is difficult to uninstall.

Microsoft estimates spyware is responsible for half of all...

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