Friday, April 30, 2004

More spyware news -- educate yourself!

The FTC recently held a workshop on spyware issues. If you don't know:

In general, spyware - called adware by its proponents - is software that shows up on a computer unannounced, often because the owner has signed up for a free service like a file-sharing network or has agreed to receive messages in return for gaining access to a Web site. The software usually delivers pop-up ads, but sometimes performs other actions without the owner understanding what is going on or how to stop it.
The activities of spyware programs can be relatively benign, obnoxious or even blatantly illegal. Computer users may be driven to distraction by pop-up ads, some pornographic, or find that their PC's become sluggish, laboring under the computing burden of the unwanted programs. Some programs monitor Internet use or even record keystrokes, such as password entries.

Even legitimate companies like Yahoo!, Amazon, and Microsoft are wary of allowing the states to create anti-spyware laws for several reasons. Among them are a concern that there will be different laws in every state, which is hard to work with; and that uninformed legislation will outlaw legitimate uses of programs that may or may not be considered "spyware" - like cookies that record user information and other helpful tracking programs (there are helpful ones). This article points out that what typically happens, as with the CAN-SPAN act, is that several states will make legislation, then the interested parties will lobby Congress to make a new one without teeth to supercede all the state laws.

Truth be told, some of the main reasons that spam and spyware are such problems is a lack of consumer education - people don't realize that when they download freeware and shareware it comes with spyware as part of a "drive-by download." Users even unwittingly agree to have it on their computers often time, they just click the "I Agree" button. Do yourself a favor and get a spybot killer (I recommend Search & Destroy). By being a smart user you can avoid all these troubles. The answer to making the Internat a pleasent place to be may well not be to regulate the applications on the Internet, but to be a smart user who utilizes programs to aid you (spybot killers, pop-up killers).

Also, whenever you write your email address online write it out, but not as a link. For instance, my email address is ccohen at gmail dot com. Get it. That way crawlers that harvest email addresses can see it. Also, as for stopping pop-ups (which are often caused by spyware) get yourself the Google toolbar, it rocks.

An attorney points out -

"[WhenU's] business model, and Gator's business model,'' Mr. Zeidner said, "is to put this [spyware/adware] on computers faster than the public is being educated and removing it from their computers."

Go, read this NYT article.


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