Thundercloud and Eightball RANT - Cloudeight Internet LLC

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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #129 - April 7, 2006

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The Easter Bunny Factor

Most of us in the Christian world grew up with Easter and most of us in the United States grew up believing in the Easter Bunny. I do apologize to those of you in the rest of the world, I cannot say for sure if you have an Easter Bunny tradition or not. I'm not very cosmopolitan, I'm afraid to say.

But, I can remember being a small child and actually believing that a giant bunny came while I was sleeping and hid eggs all over my house; and left me an Easter basket full of tooth-rotting goodies all wrapped up in pretty colored cellophane. I remember how disappointed I was when I learned that the Easter Bunny was not real - it was just good, old mom and dad playing a sweet fantasy. It was OK though, because by the time I figured out there was no Easter Bunny, I still believed in Santa Claus, At least for awhile. After I found out there was no Santa (and I recovered from a long bout of grief) I went ahead and grew up more-or-less normally. I'm sure some would argue with that.

Most of us, by the time we reach our adult years, know for sure that the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus do not really exist. But millions of grown-ups still believe in the theory that wonderful, philanthropic and ethereal companies and individuals exist in the cyberworld ready to fill their Easter baskets (um I mean computers) with goodies. And it's just because of their exuberant and over-flowing altruism which they must let loose on the growing population of Internet surfers. Hoo-hah! Something for nothing! The ultimate gimme! Gimme. Gimme. Gimme.

Before we get into the gory details of spyware and adware and bring up one of our favorites topics, "Hotbar" again, let me digress:

Most of us can spot a scam a mile away in real life. If someone came to your door today and offered you $200.00 worth of free groceries you wouldn't just accept the offer, would you? Your first thought would be: "Why is this greaseball offering me $200.00 worth of free groceries? What's the catch?". Am I right? I sure hope so. You'd want to know why someone would give you $200.00 worth of groceries for nothing. You'd want to know what the catch is. Yet, every single day on the Internet, millions and millions are duped by companies offering them something of value for nothing. But, unlike the real physical world, there's another dimension to the Internet to consider: There are really things on the Internet which are free. Honestly free. So how do you know the difference.

Let's take Cloudeight Stationery for example. Over 5000 free (really free downloads). One might suspect we're duping someone with this volume of free things, but we're not. Cloudeight started out in 1998 as a hobby. We made stationery, screen savers and things like that for fun. However, all this free stuff generated a lot of traffic and one web hosting company after the other shut us down because we were growing too fast (and we actually cried when they took our site down - really!) The end-result was we had to actually pay thousands and thousands of dollars for dedicated Web servers to handle the traffic generated by all the free things we offered. We had to find some way of generating some revenue just to pay the costs we incurred by giving stuff away. We did so with advertising on our site (never in our software) and as we could we developed software programs like Smileycons, CalendarPal, Email Guardian, and Zappit that we sold for a small price. Today we survive by Google text ads on our site, sales of our own products, donations from our loyal visitors, and a sales of specifically selected and approved partner products like SpySweeper, Spyware Doctor and Registry Mechanic. Although we were offered up to fifty-cents per download (and we serve several million downloads a year) to combine our stuff with spyware and adware, we never did, and we never will. We could have been millionaires; in which case I would have been writing this from the deck of my yacht "Cloudie" while slurping gin & tonic and munching on caviar - instead of from my little tiny office drinking cold coffee and bending over in my broken down chair wishing summer would hurry up and come. But somehow, we grew up with some principles and those principles tell us that earning the respect and trust of our visitors and newsletter readers is a much greater reward than dollars. Too bad the rest of the world doesn't think this way, isn't it? Gee, maybe it's just that we're stoopid eh?

So how can you tell the difference between honest freeware and sneaky adware and spyware? Companies promoting "free" adware and spyware have no visible means of support. Most of them are big publicly traded companies. Most of them have millions or even billions of dollars in revenue. You don't see them selling products. Well, some might offer a "pro" version of their adware or spyware which promise to show no ads - but that right there is a tip off that the free version does. I can tell you they don't live off the sales of the "pro" versions.

They live off the Easter Bunny Factor and convincing millions of unsuspecting, Easter-Bunny-believing adults that you can get all this "wonderful" software completely free. And they'll go to great lengths to tell you that they're not adware or spyware. In fact, the biggest culprits go the greatest lengths to convince you they are not adware or spyware when in fact they are. You should become immediately suspicious if you come upon a site where the focus of the first page is "NO ADWARE / NO SPYWARE". See http://smileycentral.com/  for an example.

You'll note that the first sentence says "100% Free. No Adware. No Spyware" This could only happen on the Web. SmileyCentral is owned by AskJeeves, et. al. a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Are they being dishonest or are they just altruistic and 100% philanthropic? What do you think? See http://thundercloud.net/infoave/askjeeves-rant.htm to see proof they are at the very least "adware" and a search engine manipulator. Do you really think they're going to invest millions in software development and art animations and then turn around and give it to you absolutely free? Do you believe in the Easter Bunny?

Awhile back, we were embroiled in a hot dispute with adware developer "Hotbar" (see this Rant and this one ). Providing honest information to our readers we actually dared call Hotbar adware. They took offense and threatened to sue us. Many of you wrote and showed your support for our stand. Soon after, Symantec (the company we all love to hate - the guys who make Norton products) sued Hotbar for the right to call them what they are and won. So now, we guess, we can officially call Hotbar "adware" without fear of retribution. Hotbar lost the Symantec suit and now is officially "adware" though Hotbar doth still protest they have wrongly persecuted and vilified.

But that doesn't stop Hotbar from keeping on keeping on.

This week, Hotbar is in the news again, this time in a article by Ben Edelman about "Click Fraud". In the real world we'd call this "theft". On the Internet though, we use the politically correct term "click fraud". Ben Edelman exposes Hotbar and others in his article entitled "The Spyware - Click-Fraud Connection -- and Yahoo's Role Revisited". While Edelman does not accuse Hotbar directly of being involved with the others in click fraud schemes, he does state that Hotbar is guilty of: "Self-targeting Traffic", "Failure To Label Sponsored Links As Such", "Low Quality Traffic", "Unethical Spyware-sourced Traffic" and "Sometimes installed without any user consent". And to think, Hotbar just a few months ago was denying they were Adware and threatening to sue us? Hmmm.

Now Hotbar has entered a new arena (well, maybe not) with a product called "SmartShopper" (oh boy!) which you can read about here. Well, if nothing else, Hotbar doesn't give up easily, he keeps on keeping on. What's interesting about "SmartShopper" is the comment Ben Edelman posts in reply to the article in which he states:

(QUOTE) "My worry: Users aren't out there clamoring for these kinds of apps. Rather, they're apps that marketers produce, in hopes that they can find users willing to tolerate them.

But if no users turn out to be interested, what then? Inevitably, marketers are willing to pay distributors to get these programs onto users' PCs. Then distributors put these programs onto users' PCs without getting users' consent, or without getting informed consent. 

The result: Add one more program to the spyware list.

Mike, your finding of an association with Hotbar is fascinating. I've recently seen multiple serious violations by Hotbar, including clear breaches of affiliate networks' rules. Any association with Hotbar certainly doesn't speak well for a new offering."

Posted by: Ben Edelman at February 28, 2006 08:43 PM (END QUOTE)

It would appear that Hotbar, at the very least, has developed yet another questionable software product euphemistically listed as "Freeware". The Easter Bunny factor is apparently alive and well.

Hotbar, as you will note if you read the article by Ben Edelman, is only one of many companies who rely on the Easter Bunny Factor for their survival. It seems that if you're willing to take the low road and develop spyware and/or adware applications (and there really isn't much of a difference) and you can convince enough advertisers to pay you ten, twenty, thirty or even fifty cents a click for every click your adware or spyware application generates (either legitimately or through dubious means) then you will be successful at least financially. And if you don't give a darn about your reputation and could care less about earning the trust or respect of your users then you can become an Internet millionaire and hobnob with the rich and famous; who, I can assure you, won't care from what source you derived your millions. The fact that you have the millions is all that's required for admission to that club.

The dark world of adware and spyware grows deeper and darker by the day. Simply because it's a multi-billion dollar industry built on the Easter Bunny Factor. Where there is easy money to be made you can be sure there are certain types of individuals and companies who will rush in to grab it. Those who believe in something for nothing are the same people who believe in the get-rich-quick schemes. The Easter Bunny Factor abounds even in the adult world where no one really believes in Santa, The Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. And the Easter Bunny Factor is why adware and spyware companies reap such huge financial rewards. You can't blame it all on the companies who make adware and spyware, you have to blame a lot of this mess on the Easter Bunny Factor.

Hotbar insinuated that the only reason we picked on them (did we?) was because we were jealous. Yeh? So what? Sure, we might be a little jealous of those who deceive people with "free" smileys because we do make a competing "smiley" product and we charge a fair price for it.

But, we play the game fair. We don't give ours away as free and then gum up computers with dozens of programs that start with Windows. We don't cause damage to computers. We don't link to offensive chat rooms or photos. We don't open a direct connection to your computer to gather up information from you. We don't track your web surfing habits and then display advertising based on your searches or browsing. We don't display advertising popups, we don't hijack your search engine or start page. We charge a little for our product and give people their money's worth. We could turn Smileycons into a million-dollar adware product and be dishonest and claim it is "free" and give it away. We could ruin people's computers, we could attempt to install our products by vague consent like so many adware/spyware products do, and we could probably laugh all the way to bank and reap tremendous financial rewards by doing so.

But there's something intrinsically wrong with that approach and we'll never do it. We'll continue to try to make our way the honestly and fairly. And if we ultimately fail, we fail. But we fail with our heads held high and our honesty and respect for ourselves intact.

We believe that doing things the right way is its own reward. The greatest reward of all is earning the trust and respect of others. We hope we've earned yours. We'd hate to live the rest of our business lives relying on the Easter Bunny Factor. Someday, people might stop believing in the Easter Bunny and then where would be?

How about you? Do you believe in the Easter Bunny?

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