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Are You an Unwitting Victim of the New Adware/Spyware Movement?

Update 7/2003: Whoah! Crime Spider even fell victim to spyware creeps, those sleazy bums! The pop ups started coming like crazy after we had a computer reformatted and neglected to reinstall spyware protection. Live and learn.

Update 11/2002: A new sneaky trick by advertisers to get spyware on your computer is to send you a greeting card that installs the program. The greeting card appears to be from an admirer or friend. Get a program like Black Ice that has application protection so you know if something is being installed on your computer! Until the laws change, spyware invades your privacy and watches and records your every keystroke!)

The day a co-worker called me and said, "Hey, a competitor's ad is showing up on our website! It pops up and says "Recommended Site"--what's going on?" I learned the brutal truth about ad/spyware. Basically, unauthorized people could advertise on MY website. How does this happen and how can it be legal? There are a number of court battles going on right now to try to stop this practice (Gator is being sued by some online publishers), but until then the only way to stop this unethical practice is to inform the public about why and how it happens.

Basically, these ads are ONLY delivered to people who have either willingly or unwittingly downloaded a spy or adware program. Frankly, in looking into this situation I have found that the vast majority of people have no idea they have downloaded software that monitors all their surfing activity then delivers ads that match the types of sites you tend to visit on the web. For example, if you are looking for a new Toyota, you might be surprised when you get to a Toyota site and another car company's ad pops up. You might even think, "That is so weird! Why would Toyota allow ads for another car company?" The answer is: Toyota has not done this! A spy/adware company is doing it on behalf of the other car company. This is sort of akin to a brick-and-mortar store ending up with a competitor's sign on their front window. Seems absurd, right?

I have tried some friends' computers to see how pervasive this problem is. In one case the poor teenaged boy was getting around 8-10 popups for EVERY SITE HE VISITED. He was frustrated and annoyed. I told him, "You've got spy/adware. The sites are not delivering these ads--these companies like Gator are delivering them." We downloaded a program to delete all the programs and he could not believe the difference. The odd thing is that most people have no idea they have downloaded the spyware software. They have no idea their every click and keystroke is being monitored by an ad-delivery company. The software is often piggybacked on other "free" software. Let's be realistic: why would a company give you something for free if they weren't going to derive some economic beneft from the "give away" somehow and some way? Kazaa, for example, has spy/adware bundled with it. Unless you are savvy and uncheck these items when installing, you will have multiple software programs on your computer that will deliver popup ads (usually really obnoxious ones that crawl across your screen and are hard to minimize). Another way they get you is by using deceptive popups to get you to download. The popup might say: You need an update! Or something that seems "familiar." The window then has a selection of "ok" and the only way to close it is to his the "x" in the upper right corner. Many inexperienced surfers may end up downloading and installing the software not realizing it is something they do not want.

For me, the most alarming fact is that most of these people have no idea that they have now volunteered to be profiled by advertising companies. They track your every move and deliver you ads based on your surfing profile.

Programs that protect you against these programs are very reasonable. The reduction in pop-up ads alone is well worth the minimal cost.

 
     
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