Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #124 - March 3, 2006
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
As most of you know, Hotbar was sued by Symantec
- the company that makes Norton products. Symantec called Hotbar "Adware" and
Hotbar didn't like it much and told Symantec about it. Symantec sued
Hotbar, not for money, but for the right to call Hotbar "adware". Recently,
Symantec won (out of court) and now has the right to call Hotbar "adware". So I
guess that means that after all our
problems with Hotbar,
we can now officially call Hotbar "adware"
I admit, we did chortle a little when we saw that
Symantec labeled Hotbar "low risk" adware. Apparently, Symantec doesn't really
want to offend anyone and likes its seat on the fence between politically
correct and giving the appearance that Symantec's products provide adequate
protection. And, we really got a chuckle out of Hotbar's response.
president said that Hotbar was "upstanding" adware. Here's the
quote from Oren Dovronsky that we found humorous - "...The difference between us
and other spyware/adware companies is that the other programs are downloaded
onto the computer without the user knowing, ...". Hmmm...
Before we go on, we want to say that this is not an
article about Hotbar. It's about the politically correct crowd and the terms
"adware" and "spyware" as they apply to today's Internet. It's the old "tweedle
dee / tweedle dum" - "frick and frack" thing come back to haunt us all. I swear!
A Brief History of
The basic concept of adware
was a good one: I provide you a nice program and you allow me to show
you advertisements. And the first adware programs did exactly that. They
showed you rotating banners while the program was running and if you
clicked the banners they took you to whatever site for which that banner
was advertising. Banners were included with the program and we're
not "targeted" and were not "beamed" from the Web. In other words, these banners were not based on your
private behavior - such as what you search for or your browsing habits.
It didn't take long before
someone realized the potential of adware and began building in the
capacity to track your browsing and search habits and phoning home to
retrieve advertisements based on your personal and private behavior. And
now it's grown to be a billion dollar business.
The idea that adware and
spyware are distinctly different comes from the old model of adware. In
the old model your personal behavior was not tracked and advertisements
were not based on this tracking of your private movements.
Spyware and Adware Are
More Similar Than Different
The term spyware is a very volatile term.
It causes developers of adware to go into wild tizzies. It invokes
images of cloak and dagger methods of gathering up your personal
information. It even brings to mind secret software hidden on your
computer that is scouring for credit card and bank account numbers and
sending them off into cyberspace where evil miscreants await to plunder
your bank accounts and credit cards. And, no doubt, the more sinister
spyware applications, such as keyloggers, can indeed steal valuable
passwords and account information from you without your knowledge or
Most adware developers try to make you
believe that the difference between their adware programs and the nasty
spyware programs floating around, is that spyware installs secretly and
without your knowledge or permission. While this may be true in some
cases, generally adware and spyware programs install because you clicked
a link to install it. According to adware and spyware makers, the fact
that you might not have been making a fully informed choice when you
downloaded these products makes no difference. If an adware or spyware
product hides important information about how they will collect data
about your browsing and search habits and display advertising based on
those habits, deep on page seven of a twelve page "EULA" or bury the
convoluted, euphemistic legalese - it's OK. You should have read it and
didn't. You made the conscious choice to download their products and
therefore they have the right to do whatever they want because EULAs are
But the differences between adware and most
common spyware are very difficult to discern. The most common adware and
spyware being distributed on the internet share more similarities than
differences. For my money, most adware is spyware and most spyware is
adware. They both collect personal and private information from your
computer and sell it to advertisers. The advertising displayed within
spyware and adware applications is targeted and based on your personal
Only the nastiest and most pernicious of
spyware differs by any great degree from most adware.
If Adware Existed In The Real World
Can you imagine someone snooping around in
your garbage can to see what products you buy most often? Can you
imagine them surreptitiously snooping to see if you buy Campbell's Pork
& Beans or Bush's beans.
They find you like "not from concentrate"
orange juice and that you are a cookie junkie -all by rooting through
Maybe it's all legal too. You might have
given them permission to go through your garbage when you signed that
fifteen page agreement with the garbage collection company.
Just picture someone coming to your door
with coupons for "Alex's Beans", "Big O's Not From Concentrate Orange
Juice" and oodles of coupons for cookies of all kinds. You'd
wonder how they knew what you liked. It's simple. The know what you like
because they snooped through your garbage. Your personal behavior
and habits have been scrutinized and used to provide you with targeted
Some of you might not object to this sort
of snooping. But, when you break it down, it is basically wrong if the
person being spied upon is not consciously aware of it. If adware
programs notified you each time you turned on your computer that they
were going to be tracking your behavior, browsing habits and searches
while you were online - how many of you would actually click "OK
Continue" ? How many of you would click "Cancel and Uninstall These
And if allowing your own personal habits to
be tracked and collated isn't bad enough, most adware programs leave a
conduit open between your computer and the site of the adware program.
Many adware programs give the impression that this is done so "updates"
can be installed. But, we've discovered that updates often include new
adware programs the developer has authored, maybe untested and unstable
programs that will be piped to and installed on your computer without
your knowledge or permission. This tampering with your computer is all
perfectly legal because by installing the initial adware or spyware
program you've agreed to allow the developers to do this.
It's no wonder that one of the biggest
causes of major problems with personal computers these days are adware
and spyware applications; many of which were installed by the owner's
request. It's hard to believe that people would install any of these
types of applications if they were fully aware of what was in the
product's EULA and cognizant of the types of activities these programs
conduct while installed.
And, it's a fact that some (if not most)
adware and spyware programs, install many other programs besides the one
you actually wanted. Sometimes a dozen or more unrelated programs are
installed when you click the "Download Now" button. And most of the time
all of these applications will start with Windows and drain precious
resources while they continually run, sometimes unnoticed, in the
So it's not just the privacy issues that
make adware and spyware bad choices; leaving an open conduit between
adware and spyware developer's sites on the internet and your computer
leaves you open more adware and spyware applications. Consciously
installing one application and unknowingly installing a dozen more can
harm your computer or slow it to an annoying crawl.
If adware programs were the innocent
programs of their beginnings then no one would have to be particularly
concerned about them. But, most of the adware available on the Web today
isn't based on the innocuous concept of adware put forth all those years
ago; today's adware concept makes it very hard to differentiate it from
the spyware that everyone, even adware developers, claim to loathe.
In my opinion companies like Symantec
(aptly named), the maker of Norton products, is not doing their
customers a fair service by classifying adware as "low risk", "medium
risk" and "high risk". They're playing the semantics game; trying to
appear politically correct.
Can you imagine the criminal justice system
using the same technique? We would have "low risk" thieves, "low risk"
embezzlers, and "low risk" con artists. Maybe I'm out-of-the-loop, but I
cannot understand the "low risk", "medium risk" "high risk"
appellations. Is a low risk thief a better employee than a medium risk
thief? If you were the employer would you feel comfortable with either
Despite the current climate on the Web of
trying not to offend anyone, in reality the difference between adware and
the most common spyware
is about the same as the difference between "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle
Tell us what you think - Please
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