A consortium of anti-spyware companies has fallen apart over different in its direction.

The Consortium of Anti-Spyware Technology Vendors - Coast - launched 16 months ago after several security software makers decided to coordinate research efforts. But in the past few days, all three founding companies - PestPatrol, Webroot and Aluria - have resigned.

Each cited a different reason for leaving, but disagreements over the organisation's direction played a role in its demise. While Coast's founders are all developers of technologies aimed at quashing spyware, its charter called for a wider membership, so last year, companies that make the kind of software Coast aims to eliminate began joining the consortium.

New members had to pass an approval process and agree to work toward complying with Coast's standards, but some existing members found themselves in the uncomfortable position of associating with vendors whose products they distrust.

The bigger problem, former members say, is that as Coast diversified it became harder to accomplish anything. "Coast was a stagnant organisation," said Rick Carlson, president of Aluria. Aluria, which publishes its own spyware definition criteria on its website, "tried to lead by example" but couldn't motivate Coast's membership to focus on standardisation, Carlson said. Frustrated at the group's sluggishness, Aluria decided to resign.

Aluria announced its departure soon after Webroot filed its own resignation notice. "Of late, we have become concerned that Coast is moving in a direction with which we cannot agree," the company said. "We are not comfortable with the idea of Coast as a certification body or as a marketing tool for member companies."

The spark that ignited long-simmering tensions appears to be Coast's admission last month of 180solutions, a marketing company whose search assistant application has been criticised for weak privacy protections and installation notifications.

With Webroot and Aluria pulling up stakes, the consortium's last remaining founder, PestPatrol, faced pressure to also distance itself from what remains of Coast. It announced its resignation from the group on Monday, but did so reluctantly. "I haven't yet seen a really good, tangible reason why anyone is pulling out," said Sam Curry, security VP at Computer Associates, which bought PestPatrol in August. "CA feels we have to resign because we can't sustain it by ourselves. We feel Coast has dropped below a certain critical mass. It's unfortunate, because Coast was the only group of its kind, and the Internet needs it right now."

Coast's executive director, Trey Barnes, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did several remaining members, including WeatherBug. With its most influential members abandoning it, though, the group is essentially being left for dead.

Some in the antispyware industry say that's for the best. Posters on the Spyware Warrior website's bulletin board took a gleeful tone as Coast's defections mounted. SpywareInfo, a site that offers removal tips and publishes a weekly newsletter, ran a report by editor Mike Healan on Coast's unraveling. "Coast was never a particularly relevant member of the community," Healan wrote. "I don't think anyone will miss Coast and I don't imagine that very many will attend the funeral."

Aluria's Carlson and CA's Curry both say that however flawed Coast was, it played a necessary role. "Without standards and without groups that actually effect change, our industry can't survive," Curry said. "This is a rallying cry. At CA, we are completely neutral here as to who owns it or who champions it. We plan to see what emerges, and if nothing else emerges, we'll take a leadership role where we have to."

"Coast served its purpose for a long time. We just needed a housecleaning," Carlson said. "The silver lining here is that the vendors all know one another. Forming a new group will be time intensive, but the relationships have been formed and the mistakes have already been made. We're set for our future discussions to be fruitful."