PDF files are considered to be fairly innocuous. They're used extensively in organizations big and small, and typically don't contain viruses or spyware. But with the recent introduction of Adobe Policy Server and a new product called Map-Bot, creators of content CAN monitor and/or control PDFs once they've been distributed.
Adobe's Policy Server "lets a PDF document's creator set policies determining who can view a document and whether the recipient can modify, copy, print, or forward the document." (InfoWorld, Adobe's Policy Server tightens document privacy, Jan. 5, 2005) According to Are Your PDFs Spying on You? (PC Magazine, June 28, 2005), Map-Bot "can force users to be connected to the Web in order to read the documents. It can track who's e-mailing PDFs to whom and what they're reading - in real time."
Publishers are likely to take to this technology for obvious reasons. On the bright side, they may be more willing to distribute their publications electronically via PDF if they know they can control or at least monitor, who sees it. That can mean faster delivery of a product that looks just like the print version.
And the current approach being used by some publishers such as "The Deal", leaves something to be desired. Subscribers to The Daily Deal Digital, a complete PDF of the Daily Deal, are now required to install a utility called the Unsealer, from Sealed Media, which tracks how many different computers are used to view that file. If a subscriber passes their copy along to 10 people, the The Deal will know about it.
Cisti's Document Delivery Service uses FileOpen Web Publisher to limit the number of times a document subject to copyright restrictions can be viewed and printed.
The problem is, how many utilities do YOU want to install on your computer. Especially in a networked environment, such programs can have unintended consequences, or you may not be allowed to install them at all.
Since Map-Bot leaves no software behind it may provide a better approach for copy protection. But you should be aware that content providers may have more information about how you're using their content than you might have thought.