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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #134 - May 12, 2006

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Uncle Remus Sings Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah

Those of you who are tired of unimportant stuff like high fructose corn syrup, good health, and my pontificating about the poisons in our food, can rest easy today. This week's rant, despite its title, is totally computer-related. Honest!

Who's to blame for adware and spyware? Hmmm...There's only one answer and that answer is: The advertisers who pay the spyware and adware companies to advertise their wares and the people who believe in Br'er Rabbit, Uncle Remus, Santa Claus, free lunches, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the like.

It's estimated that the spyware/adware and browser/search engine hijacking (just another form of adware/spyware) is approaching becoming a $100 billion industry. That's a lot of clams. A lot of clams means a lot of get-rich-quick schemers are all over it. And, boy are they! But, it's not just the get-rich-quick guys and gals that are into spyware/adware big time. Now even big corporations devote entire divisions (like AskJeeve's FunWebProducts division) to excavating dollars from innocent (albeit naive) computer users' machines. These people don't understand the concept of adware and spyware (or the consequences thereof) and they don't care. Honest! We've had people write us saying (quote): "Who cares if somebody tracks my web browsing, emails, or changes my search results based on who paid the most, I got a good free program." (Which makes me wonder if there is ANY intelligent life in the universe!). They prefer to sing Zip-Ah-Dee-Doo-Dah  with Uncle Remus (with a bluebird on his shoulder) and walk down the glorious primrose path in some nebulous fantasy world that exists only in their innocent, naive little heads.

As long as there are people on this planet who really believe in yellow brick roads and think that the Song Of The South was a documentary, the rest of us are going to have to live with spyware, adware, homepage hijackers, browser hijackers, search engine manipulators, search engine hijackers, quasi-trojans and the like.

Now, the prevailing belief is that spyware, adware, etc. are installed on people's computers by nefarious and nebulous means. Ah, yes! Installed clandestinely, surreptitiously, drilled into the poor, unsuspecting users' computers without their knowledge and certainly without their consent by bad guys sitting in dank, moldy rooms filled with empty beer bottles, overflowing ashtrays, empty pork & beans cans and computers. Right? Wrong!

The technology writers at USA Today, CNN, Fox News, and many others in what is euphemistically called the "mainstream" press, would have you believe that spyware (and its blood cousins adware, trickware, badware, along with hijackers, manipulators, et.al.) are always installed on the sly. Well, that's not exactly true. It's a fact that some nasty critters are installed by exploiting security flaws in browsers (most notably Internet Explorer and even more notably those who navigate cyberspace with holey unpatched versions of Internet Explorer - but none of these are readers of this newsletter - right? You listen to us preach over and over about keeping up with your Windows Updates and follow our advice. Right?). But, ninety-percent or more of the time, people are just plain duped into installing junk on their computers by one simple word. And that word is "FREE". All a spyware/adware junk maker has to do is splash the word "FREE" around a few hundred thousand Web sites (which costs that junk maker hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in advertising) and people will come a'runnin' like little piggies at feeding time.

And to make matters even more complex, the junkware developers (you know the adware/spyware/hijacker/manipulator/quasi-trojan people) just plain lie. Well, that might be too harsh a word. Maybe not lie so much as take advantage of loose English and the lack that anyone has had the guts to stand up and really define "spyware" and "adware". There's a sense of politeness on the Web that most anti-spyware companies adhere to. They love the term "potentially unwanted software" which, we shall hereinafter refer to as "PUS". They also love the term "questionable software". Well, being blunt here, the reason they love these terms isn't because they REALLY love these terms it's because of another term that scares the daylights out of them. That word is "lawsuits". Another word that makes them tremble is "lawyer". They sure don't like those words at all. So PUS and questionable software remain on the anti-spyware developers' menu du jour.

So, can we blame Mr. or Mrs. John Q. Public for downloading PUS? What do they see when they stumble upon or click one of the umpteen zillion advertisement for PUS that pervade the Web? Well they see big, bold, no-holds-barred terms like "No Spyware, No Adware and FREE! FREE! FREE!". "Get 10,000,000 smileys FREE!" "Win new Cadillacs for life FREE!" "Get everything you ever dreamed of or ever will dream of FREE!" "You can trust us! We love you and your kids. We really do! We got tons of free stuff; it's FREE! FREE! FREE!" "No Adware! No Spyware! HONEST! It's all FREE! FREE! FREE!"  People just can wait to click the download button because, despite what they've been told, they've found Santa right here on the Web and he's going to give them bags of toys FREE! FREE! FREE! Can you hear old Uncle Remus singing: "ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH, ZIPPITY-A, My Oh! My, what a wonderful day. Plenty of sunshine coming my way! ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH, ZIPPITY-A". With Uncle Remus singing and Santa there digging into his bag of goodies just waiting to pass them out to anyone that will believe in him - how can anyone resist?

So, the "spyware" problem (and we use the term spyware as it encompasses adware, search engine manipulators, browser hijackers, quasi-trojans) isn't caused so much by the criminals that breach browser security holes, it's caused by those who want so badly to believe in Santa Claus that they've convinced themselves that he's in hiding on the Web and really exists in cyberspace. He might have been run out of the real world, but he's alive, well, and very generous on the Web. And along with the Santa Claus believer it's also caused by thousands of legitimate well-known companies who don't care how the word gets out as long as it gets out. And they're tossing around some big bucks to get their word out. And, believe me, there are hundreds of spyware/adware companies out there ready to take their money and spread the word to ever corner of every desktop they can. Anyone who can be snookered - will be snookered! Advertising is big business and advertising in the adware/spyware arena is no exception. There's gold in them thar hills and them thar spyware people gonna be out to get it. They'll lie, cheat, trick and bend the rules to get you, your sister, your mom and dad, your brother, your cousins, and your friends to grab the goodies. Of course our readers would never fall for such chicanery, would they? Nah!

As Uncle Remus sings in the background, our poor innocent computer user who wanted so badly to find the real Santa Claus and finally thinks he has, merrily tools around the Web thinking all is well. He's got his 10 zillion free talking smileys, he's got his free weather program, he's got his magical toolbar with blink ads, he's got everything old Santa had in his bag. He brags to his friends how much he's gotten for FREE!. But a few months down the road, after all the PUS he's installed starts "updating". And, updating to PUS developers means installing more and new PUS on the victim's computer -and they can do it legally now because our innocent and naive computer user never read any of the license agreements or Terms of Service agreements for any of Santa's "gifts". However the PUS people have it covered. By downloading and using the software our poor computer user has agreed (legally) to allow the PUS people to install a new kitchen sink if they so desire, and he can't stop them as long as he continues to use the software (which of course he won't because it was free).

So, now our poor victim notices his computer is starting to run slower than a Mongolian warthog mucking around in Br'er Rabbit's tar patch (and Oh Yeah! Uncle Remus is still singing!) and he's (the computer user - not the Mongolian warthog) is scratching his head.

As his computer becomes slower and slower he never thinks about Santa Claus because he can barely browse the Web anymore to visit him. The next thing you know he's on the phone with Joe's Computer Repair and Organic Foods Shop (I just had to get the organics in here, sorry) and makes an appointment for Joe to come fix his computer.

Now computer repair people just love PUS. Really. I should know. I was one. (No I was a computer repair person - not a PUS.). Why do computer repair people love PUS? Well, PUS-filled computers are very easy to fix. By the time the computer repair person gets the call to come and fix a computer, the computer's nearly dead anyway. It has been smothered, nearly suffocated by tendrils of PUS and PUS "updates". When the computer is in its death throes, the call goes out for help. Anyway, at this point, when the technician arrives the first question is "Do you have a Windows CD?". This leads, after many tears and objections, to the word "Format"; which then leads to the words "reinstall Windows"; which then leads to the bill - which will be about $150.00 )(give or take $50.00 for about an hour and half's work. Not bad! No wonder computer repair guys (and gals) love PUS, eh?

So, while Uncle Remus walks down the primrose path with a bluebird on his shoulder and singing ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH, millions of people are tittering about the Internet discovering (or so they think) the real Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and all those other semi-fictional philanthropic creatures which so delight us in our youth. But most of these creatures, on the Internet are not fictional, they are big PUS corporations looking for free billboards (meaning YOUR PC). And when the Internet Santas pass out the goodies those poor souls who just gotta believe in Santa become Santa's helpers  when they tell their friends and family members about all the free stuff they got from the Internet Santa. Then, of course, they want the free stuff too. Everyone wants the free stuff and so the beat goes on.

But, it ain't supposed to be this way, is it? Tell me it ain't! Ah, sing to me Uncle Remus, Sing to me!  Wait, was Br'er Rabbit in the same story as Uncle Remus and the bluebird? Or was he in cahoots with Bambi? I think I have my documentaries mixed up :-)

  Tell us what you think - Please

Note:  A word about "Br'er Rabbit" While modern Americans generally pronounce the second 'r' in Br'er, the original pronunciation was "Bruh" or "Buh." When Joel Chandler Harris spelled "Br'er" with an 'er' at the end of the word, he was indicating the Southern pronunciation of the final 'er' as in "brothuh" (brother), sistuh (sister), or faa'muh (farmer). (Source: "Wikipedia")

 

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