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SAN FRANCISCO — A research organization that tries to warn computer users about programs that do sneaky things on their computers has spun off from Harvard University.

The says it will operate as a standalone nonprofit with funding from Google Inc., eBay Inc.’s PayPal and Mozilla, which makes the Firefox Web browser.

“StopBadware has grown in just a few years from the seed of an idea into an internationally recognized force in the fight against harmful software,” said Urs Gasser, executive director of the Berkman Center at Stanford where StopBadware was launched. “We are proud that, by developing a unique mission and becoming independent, StopBadware now follows in the footsteps of previous ventures like Creative Commons and Global Voices that have their roots here at the Berkman Center. We’re grateful for the inspiration and guidance of the project’s leaders, professors Jonathan Zittrain and John Palfrey.”

StopBadware issues what it calls "badware alerts" about corporations whose applications do what the organization deems unwanted and harmful things to users’ computers.

The idea is to warn users before they access a site with such a program. The list also is meant to pressure companies to change their tactics.

“If we want to put an end to badware—or even put a dent in it—we have to change the attitudes and behaviors of individuals, organizations, and governments,” said Maxim Weinstein, StopBadware’s executive director. “That’s no small task, but we know progress is possible by combining the creativity and passion of our community members with the hard facts derived from our Badware Website Clearinghouse.”

The group says it decided to break off from Harvard because it had grown beyond its roots as a research project.

Its board members include Weinstein, Palfrey, Michael Barrett (PayPal), Vint Cerf (Google), Esther Dyson, Mike Shaver (Mozilla) and Ari Schwartz (Center for Democracy & Technology).