Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #82 - May 13, 2005
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Sticking Our Necks Out (Again!)

After waiting for over a year for someone, somewhere, to create definitions for the words "Spyware" and "Adware", we've decided to stick our necks out (again) and tell it like it is. This will, of course, cause the spyware and adware companies to fly off in a tizzy. After all, these companies are the masters of convoluted and euphemistic prose. I mean who else could write such compelling text? These companies actually work hard to make you believe they're doing YOU a favor by showing you more advertising. Cool! Just what we all need. MORE advertising.

If you drive down the road you see billboards. If you watch TV you see commercials. Even if you have cable and PAY for TV you still see advertisements. If you watch NASCAR you see Viagra painted on the hood, and Gillette on the Helmets. What does Viagra and Gillette (or Miller) have to do with racing? If you eat in a restaurant you see advertising on place mats and in the lobby, on matchbooks, heck you even see it on menus and tabletops. If you rent a DVD you see advertising before the movie starts. If you to to the theater you see advertising before the movie starts and even in the lobby as you walk in.

The fact that these creative writers working for spyware and adware companies are so skillful in making you hunger for even more advertising is a tribute to their education and/or natural writing talents. It's a hard sell to make people want more advertising. It's sort of like a surgeon making you want more surgery. It would take a pretty nifty bit of writing to get people to want to line up at the hospital for a bit more surgery. But then, surgeons are not giving away wonderful, useful things like free smileys for your email! I bet if they did people would be drooling for more surgery! Come to think of it, I bet someday, when we go in for a little surgery, we're going to look up into the surgeon's face and see "Crystal Light" on his/her surgical mask and "Cialis" and "Motorola" on his/her scrubs. And on the scalpel (which hopefully the patient will never see) is inscribed "A gift from your friends at Motorola. Motorola -Tomorrow's cutting edge technology today!". And a big sign on the operating room door says: "This surgical procedure is brought to you by Motorola, Crystal Light, and Cialis." 

Advertising. You gotta love it!

Before we reach the thundering, thrilling climax of this Rant, we'd like to show you a typical example (from an actual "TOU" (Terms of Use) from a well-known "surveillance-ware" program. This little passage oozes with verbal splendor and euphemistic but nearly incomprehensible prose. Here goes:

"xxxxx is committed to your privacy!"

"in general, we do not gather, without your specific permission, any personally identifiable information when you use our software. In any event, we will not collect any personal information from children 13 years old and under,"

HUH? You mean if I'm over 13 I'm fair game? In general you don't gather personal information, what about specifically? But, at least I'm safe if I'm under 13 right? But, if I'm under 13 how do you know if you don't collect any personally identifiable information. And, what if I'm 12 but I lie and say I'm over 13? How do you know? If I do a lot of surfing for Brittany Spears and Gummy Worms you sorta guess?

Well, now you get the idea of what we mean by professionally written yet completely meaningless prose. So, what needs to be done is someone to stick their necks out and call a darn spade a darn spade. And, we are those brave souls who will lay their leathery necks on the chopping block and tell it like it is:

$pyware - Any program which displays advertisements in any form that are based on search terms you enter or pages you visit. It does not matter what form these advertisements take - banners, buttons, popups, popunders, flash, or interstitial. Ads are ads. Period.

Spyware may additionally download other programs which you may not want or need just to get the program you want, Spyware may skew searches, redirects searches, or show search results which are advertisements cloaked as search results. In other words showing you the paying advertisers as actual search results. Spyware may hijack your search engine or your home page.

A great majority of the time you can tell if you have spyware installed if you are searching for let's say "Tulips" and suddenly your browser's tool bar is emblazoned by a bevy of ads for greenhouses, seed catalogs, and florists. You get the idea. It's called "targeted" advertising. How sweet. That's just a euphemistic term for "we're spying on you so we can see what you're looking for and shove it right in your face, dude!"

Adware- Any program which displays advertising. Period. Again, it does not matter what form this advertising takes- buttons, banners, popups, etc. Adware can be spyware and spyware can be adware. They're the kissing cousins you've heard tell about. If the advertising is based on things you do on your computer - surfing or searching, then something is spying on your activities. Therefore adware which displays advertising, in any form, based on your private activities on your computer is spyware.

The definition of spy is "A secret watcher; someone who secretly watches other people". In this case that "someone" watching is software which transmits your activities back to a server on the Web which then in turn displays advertising based on your private activities (surfing, using your computer, searching the Web, etc.). Imagine you are watching television with a friend and discussing dogs while watching TV...suddenly: What to your bloodshot eyes should appear? Commercials for dog food, dog trainers, and dog kennels. You are just a tad surprised. Then you start discussing the death of a loved one. Suddenly and inexplicably all the TV commercials are for support groups, funeral homes, and estate lawyers. Now, you're downright concerned. You'd probably start looking at your ceiling and in between your sofa cushions for hidden cameras and microphones. Wouldn't you? You wouldn't like your TV set spying on your private conversations or monitoring your TV viewing habits, then displaying "relevant" advertising.

But, anyone who intentionally downloads spyware and most adware programs agrees to allow software to silently spy on them for the sole purpose of showing them "contextually relevant" advertisements. Oh, goody! And, thanks to those brilliant(?) creative writers who make MORE advertising seem like manna from heaven, people actually download spyware gleefully thinking think they're getting something for nothing. Almost like selling your soul to the devil for a few smileys? Yes!  And most are getting a lot more than they bargained for. Most spyware installs up to a dozen or more extra programs that the user must agree to accept in order to get the one program they wanted. Amazing! Not only are you presented with gobs of advertising in all forms but your computer takes a huge resource hit. Whose resources do you think are being used to display all these buttons, banners, popups, popunders, flash ads, etc.? Yours of course. And whose bandwidth is being drained while your computer silently sends information back to the spyware/adware developer's servers? Yours of course.

So, now we have toolbar spam running rampant on the Internet; spyware and adware companies that claim they're neither, and millions of victims who willingly agree they want to see even MORE advertising. Voluntary toolbar spam. Excellent! Email spammers go to jail but computer toolbar spammers go to the bank. I guess toolbar spamming is not a crime because: Hey! You asked for it!

We've defined spyware and adware. We've stuck out necks out; something no one else seems to want to do for fear of offending those who engage in the big business of spyware/adware. However, no one will ever accept our definitions even though they're right on target. Why? Because big business and big government protect one another. And, spyware and adware generate billions of dollars each year. Billions of dollars buys lots of lobbyist. Lobbyists are at work right now in Washington watering down the current anti-spyware legislation. By the time these lobbyists are finished, any anti-spyware/adware legislation which finally makes it to the president's desk will be so weak that it won't protect anyone from anything.  More millions of dollars of taxpayer money down the proverbial tubes, wasted on watered-down legislation. Can you spell "Can-Spam Act"? Have you seen a reduction in your spam since that law was passed. Speaking of spam, how about a spam quiche?

If you really don't believe that spyware is a most profitable enterprise, watch this 16 minute movie by spy warrior Ben Edelman on the installation tactics of SmileyCentral (AKA Ask Jeeves, FunWebProducts, MyWebSearch, MyWay, MySearch, et.al). This movie clearly shows how far these kinds of companies will go to get their $pyware $oftware programs installed on your computer.

Unfortunately, it looks as if toolbar spammers are here to stay....What a world we live in! Eliot Spitzer*! Are you reading this?

Tell us what you think - Please

(*Eliot Spitzer is the New York State Attorney General who is on the warpath against spyware)

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Opinions expressed herein are the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Cloudeight Internet LLC, its hosts, or sponsors. These Rants are editorials and are,  therefore, opinions. All content is copyright 2005 by Cloudeight Internet LLC (all rights reserved)