The following web page was found slipped under the doormat on one of the Emerald Technologies' public-access computers. Opinions are the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the opinions of Emerald Technologies, its owner, staff, vendors, or household pets.

Dr. DB's Help Page

With information for users of Windows,
shoppers and consumers,
casual bystanders and innocent victims,
and their heirs, assigns, associates, and camp followers.


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Windows Help: The Spies Among Us

One of the most common ailments of computers running Windows. . .
. . .is undoubtedly a spyware infection:  a random survey of Windows-based machines revealed that 80% are infected, and it accounted for over 25% of the XP repair business at Emerald Technologies.

Spyware is software that is usually bundled with another program (= installs with another program). "Infected" software is often (incorrectly) termed "freeware," and users should be wary of nominally free programs. Some software distribution sources distinguish between true freeware (software for which the author is not paid) and "adware" (software for which the author is paid by advertising and marketing companies). The following description of spyware and the issues it raises for consumers is copied from a grc.com newsgroup posting.

[From grc.spyware]

“ ‘Spyware’ is adware (= software that downloads ads onto your computer) which is bundled with some software to enable it to be freely available. The software company gets some revenue from the advertisers, which means they don't have to sell the product to make a profit/cover their costs.

It is controversial because:

1)  This software 9 times out of ten is installed without your knowledge.

2)  If it is installed with your knowledge, they usually won't allow you to install the "free" program you requested without also installing the adware program. They also don't usually tell you what the program does.

3)  The adware monitors websites and ads you click on, then relays this information back to the ad servers.(1)  Many people have privacy concerns about this.

4)  Because ads and information are transfered, this somewhat slows down your internet connection.[†]  If your ISP puts a limit on your downloads, this software will put you closer to your download limit. If you end up going past your download limit, this adware will actually wind up costing you money!

Depending on your personal ethics, you may choose to do any of the following:

1)  If you have no concerns about privacy or slightly increased internet traffic, and really like the program that the adware came with, don't worry about it – keep it.

2)  Remove the program from your computer and also remove the adware program (preferably using Ad-aware from Lavasoft; using "add/remove programs" only partially gets rid of most adware and spyware).†  If you continue to use the software and simply remove the adware, you are cheating the company who allowed you to use their software without purchasing it on the condition that they get an income from the ads. The license that came with the program usually prevents you from modifying the program in any way or removing any part of the software package, which the adware is part of.†

3)  Remove the adware (again preferably using Ad-aware) but continue using the software. Some people reason that if the software company puts out software that installs programs without your knowledge (especially when those programs may cost you money, slow your internet connection or infringe on your privacy) then they deserve no consideration – you might as well get the benefits of their program without supporting their "scam".

4)  Boycott any program containing adware or spyware. This means you are limited either to purchasing commercial software or using bonafide "Freeware" which is adware-free and spyware-free. If you decide to only use genuine freeware (or only commercial software) then your options will be limited.

To know whether software claimed to be freeware is indeed bonafide freeware you need to either check the freeware against a known adware/spyware database (there are a few websites with this info) or download your freeware from one of the few spyware/adware-free freeware sites.

Whichever option you take is up to you, and depends on how you feel about this adware and the practice of installing it "behind your back" or forcing you to install it in order to enjoy a program that was wrongfully advertised as being "free". ”
[With thanks to Pharoah for permission to use this clear definition of spyware and its ethical considerations.]

hand_forward See the new Introduction to Privacy page for a more detailed discussion of privacy issues.
 

Since you are ultimately responsible for installing most of the software on your computer, to avoid spyware problems you should:

But, for most Windows users, the following is the easiest way to "harden" your computer (= increase the level of both security and privacy):

(1)  Don't use Internet Explorer as your default browser (see  [1], [2], and [3]).

(2)  Don't use Outlook or Outlook Express for your mail (see  [4], [5], and [6]).

(3)  Don't use Windows Media Player for online multimedia (see  [7], [8]  or your local service tech for suggestions).

* (Changing your default internet software will also increase your control over all Windows operating system versions; and, for more fine-grained control as you browse, you can use a web filter.)

On the Doctor's download page you will also find a Proxomitron filter that blocks Red Sheriff applets(†) (written by Bill Webb at CEXX.org) and another that blocks web bugs, archives of security and privacy references, and an archive documenting the security and privacy risks of Microsoft's Passport service.  And be sure to see the new Introduction to Security and Introduction to Privacy pages for a discussion of issues and links to more information and software.

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Tips for Consumers:  How to Boil a Frog

  “Cheapen the product and raise the price:  it's the American way.”  
  J.M.C., scholar and critic         

One convenient way to rip off consumers  .  .  .
 . . .is by manipulating weights and measures over a lengthy period of time, a technique that takes advantage of the average shopper's buying habits, short attention span, and lack of what may most generously be termed ‘presence of mind.’  Examples of the technique may be found in the marketing of ketchup, light bulbs, peanut butter, meat and dairy products, merchandise from Costco (including their Kirkland Signature brand products), and (unfortunately) more.

“Less is more . . .”
Ketchup used be packaged in 32-ounce (two pound) glass bottles; the stuff was periodically on sale for 99’, and the bottles could be re-used or recycled. Then, marketers introduced the unwary to the "convenience" of plastic squeeze bottles, which were also often found on sale for 99’. However, instead of containing 32 ounces of ketchup (two pounds) they contained only 28 ounces (one and three-quarters pound). The bottles were about the same height and width as the glass bottles (but not round), and many folks did not notice the change in volume (clearly printed on the label — as required by law).

Over the course of a year or so, the 32-ounce glass bottles were discontinued. At that point, the amount of ketchup in the bottles was again reduced, this time to 24 ounces (one and one-half pounds). These new plastic squeeze bottles were the same height, width and shape as the "old" 28-ounce size, but considerably thinner. They, too, are often on sale for 99’.  So, although you may pay no more for ketchup than you did two years ago, you will receive only three-fourths as much for your money. In effect, you are now paying $1.33 for your ketchup. The inflation factor, for you, is 33%.

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(Although he encourages readers to use the email link below, the Doctor rarely bothers to actually read his mail and almost never answers it.)

Send Us Mail!*

*By using this email link, correspondents acknowledge that the Doctor is apt to publicly post missives with amusing errors in grammar, spelling, syntax, logic, or intellection.

Note:  Since the Doctor's retirement, he no longer ignores his mail.  You should contact Emerald Technologies to find out who is currently ignoring the Doctor's mail.

 


This site will be updated whenever the author suffers a fit of boredom or outrage, so be sure to visit frequently.