Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #74 - March 18, 2005
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A Sad New World

It seems last week's Rant stirred up a lot of controversy. Many anti-spyware and security forums are filled with posts relating to our Rant. We have big companies threatening small companies not only with legal action - but threatening their existence. These tactics have unfortunately been successful. Several smaller anti-spyware vendors have removed several top spyware/adware threats from their detection databases, yet none truthfully state why they have done so. We understand why smaller companies would capitulate to the threats of multi-million dollar companies - the need for survival outweighs the need to defend the truth.

The current trend among spyware/adware vendors is to NOT define an application as adware or spyware if that application spells out in its EULA, Terms of Use, Privacy Policy or Terms of Service exactly what their applications are going to do to you. Nice. So, if that application's EULA states "we are going to track every site you visit and display advertising all over your browser related to your own surfing habits" then that's acceptable. But, is it really? Would it be acceptable to you if you had read and understood the twisted privacy policy, TOS, EULA, or Terms of Use?

What is not fair to you, the potential victim, is that these Privacy Policies, Terms of Service, Terms of Use, EULAs, et.al, may be (and most often are) many pages long with the "juicy" stuff hidden on pages 5, 6, and 7 - in other words, buried deep within the document. Intentional? It seems obvious. Most EULAs we have seen are seven to fourteen pages of intentionally convoluted text and legal-speak. The intent of the spyware and/or adware companies is clear - to make their license, TOU, TOS, EULA, so unfathomable and ponderous, that you will simply not read it at all. Most victims then, will CHOOSE to install  the spyware/adware applications without ever reading any of these documents. The trap was well-set and the victim, unwittingly, has fallen prey to the predators. In exchange for some brightly-colored emoticons or some other dubious "service", the victim has given their computer up to these scoundrels and allowed it to be used as a billboard for whatever advertisers the spyware/adware vendor can coax into paying them. And, apparently, more and more in the anti-spyware community agree with this methodology - or are they being silenced by threats of litigation and implied extortion? We may never know. If this sad new world comes to pass, we all will be powerless victims with nowhere to turn to learn the truth.

Money and power will determine right and wrong and the rest of us will find ourselves bedeviled with all sorts of new schemes and new spyware created by companies determined to find new ways of deceiving us into installing their applications. And, we will be powerless against them for the truth will have been finally silenced by those who would deceive us all.

So, a sad new world is just over the horizon. One in which those with money (much of it accumulated by deception) lord over the smaller companies with threats of litigation and cloaked extortion. The Internet is becoming a mirror of the real world, where many laws are written specifically to protect and defend wealth and power, while the poor and powerless often struggle under their thumbs. We must not let this continue but we're not sure, exactly, how to proceed.

Who do you think is financing these spyware/adware companies? You'd be surprised. Ben Edelman, a leading critic of spyware, has published an article that shows you the names of the companies who advertise with spyware/adware developers. These companies are just as culpable as the spyware/adware developers themselves. Why? Because without their money adware/spyware would not be the billion-dollar business it is. We invite you to see the major companies who are supporting spyware/adware companies by buying advertising from them. Perhaps a boycott of these products would get the attention of the national press? Please read Ben Edelman's excellent expose' by clicking here.

Microsoft's latest "white paper" which shows how Windows AntiSpyware will define spyware and adware is troubling. According to this white paper, any application which spells out specifically in their Terms of Service, EULA, Terms of Use, or Privacy Policies, exactly what they will do, are not "spyware or adware". It is Microsoft's contention that any program which displays advertising "within the context of the program" is not adware. Apparently, even if these ads are based on the URLs you visit.

So, does this mean that adware/spyware companies who spell out in the EULAs, that by installing their applications they can do anything they want and will be protected from being identified as spyware, adware, or malware? It seems this is the trend and, if so, it is ludicrous. Just because someone tells you up front their going to be a thief in the night, does not make it right. EULAs of spyware, adware, and malware companies tend to be extremely long, written in difficult terms, and so full of legal-speak that most will never read them. And, if they did, how many would understand the implications of what they agree to simply by installing the program?  This is dishonest, intentionally deceptive, and puts you, your children, and your investment in you computer at risk.

We are but a small voice in the wilderness, crying out for the truth and for what is right. We need your help. We need the help of others like you who feel the same as we do. For, if spyware and adware developers are not held to account for their increasingly deceptive practices; if they are not stopped from silencing their critics with threats of litigation,  the sad new world of spyware, adware, and malware will be more insidious than anything we have yet seen. Children will be  unwittingly exposed to sexually-explicit content (we are currently working on absolute proof of this, and will publish it as soon as we have our report ready). Your computer resources will be eaten alive by the constant popups, advertising buttons, banners, pop-unders, and covert activities integral to spyware/adware's very nature. Your computer will be a puppet whose strings are manipulated by the hands of spyware/adware companies, who'll make you dance to their music until they've surreptitiously filled your computer with so much garbage it will slow to a crawl - all under the guise of "program updates, corrections, improvements", etc.. And, you will be trusting questionable companies - that this is ALL they will install. Via the direct pipeline that constantly exists between your computer and their servers, they could install anything they wanted and they can gather any information they want from your system, and, unless you are a computer expert with all sorts of monitoring tools at your disposal, you would be powerless to know what they are gathering, what they are installing, and what exactly they are going to do with it. One thing we know for sure. Adware that tracks your Web surfing, turns users into cattle to be sold off to the highest bidder. You trusting already dubious companies, that their EULAs will be more honest than their Web sites - which are filled with statements like "We believe in your right to privacy', "No Adware and no spyware" and similar misleading statements.

We cannot do much here but make it known that unless you get involved and spread the word, things are going to get much worse very quickly. Microsoft needs to re-define adware for what it really is and not give tacit respectability to programs who inundate you with advertising buttons based on your own, private  browsing habits. Just because you might be able to "opt-out" of popups or the program does not generate popups does NOT mean its not adware or spyware. It is the newest ruse, in a long history of ruses, perpetrated by spyware and adware companies who want "adware" and "spyware" narrowly defined so they can continue to harvest their users for all the money they can get. As it stands now, if you are given a choice to "opt-out" of popups (which may or may not cause the popups to end), they can beat the rap of being tagged "adware" or "spyware". Microsoft (and we've always been a big fan of Microsoft) is playing right into the hands of these miscreants by narrowly defining any program which displays advertisements within the context of the program itself as "not adware". This is ridiculous and opens the door to a new genre of adware and spyware applications that spell out in their five-thousand word (or more) cleverly-tortuous EULAs, exactly what they will do. And then proceed to bury your browser's toolbar with buttons, banners, and Flash ads, all clearly showing "within the context of the program" and all targeted and generated with information gleaned by tracking software you agreed to install with the spyware or adware program. And you're liable? Yes, because you didn't understand or didn't read the program's ponderous EULA. Is this fair? No. Is this legal? Apparently. For now, at least.

We think spyware and adware companies need to be legally compelled to put the potentially unsavory parts of their license agreements in big bold letters on their main pages - as noticeable as they currently and proudly display their deceptive  "No Adware" "No Spyware" claims. Allowing these companies to obfuscate the truth about how their application(s) will use your system resources, how it will constantly create a flow of data between your computer and their servers and, precisely how they will generate advertisements using your computers own resources, is unconscionable. It is legalized deception. Just the amount of resources these programs can consume is enough to slow all but the highest-end computers. Yet, billions of dollars await the successful spyware/adware developer, because major brand-name companies find this sort of advertising profitable. So, even trusted names are conspiring against you in collusion with adware/spyware makers. You're the pawn in a crafty chess game. Where does it all end?

We urge you to write your congressmen, senators, local elected officials, the press, anyone you can think of, and stop these companies from being allowed to hide the truth by burying it deep within 8 page (or longer) license agreements that they're betting no one will read (and no one but a lawyer could possibly understand).. We will be heard by only a few, but YOU will be heard by many. But you must speak up. You must act. For if you don't, things will spiral out of control in a hurry. With billions of dollars waiting for spyware and adware companies if they can deceive you into installing their garbage on your computer without fear of retaliation, criticism or removal, what a sad new world it will be. We're deadly serious. With once trusted anti-spyware companies removing threat after threat from their databases in fear of multi-million dollar lawsuits, with narrow-minded (or extorted?) anti-spyware vendors defining spyware and adware in ridiculously narrow terms, it is easy to see that the Web is about to become a den of thieves bent on finding ways to worm their applications onto your computer and harvest as much money from you as they can before you finally find a way to remove the junk they goaded or tricked you into installing. Or, you are forced to format your computer, and start all over, because the spyware/adware you installed has finally slowed it to a crawl.

Small companies who stand up for you now will be forced out of business or silenced by legal threats and implied extortion. Then, the truth will be hard to find, if you can find it at all. Sadly, this is already happening. We stand on the threshold of a sad new world where the rich and powerful define what is right and what is wrong and only you can prevent this from happening.

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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)