2004-11-05 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

I hate Spyware.

I think that putting a Spyware program on my computer is akin to coming into my house, tying me to a chair and holding me for ransom.

The people who put Spyware on my computer should be instantly put to death at hard labor.

Does that sound too harsh?

I don’t think so.

I am not alone.

The House of Representatives voted last week by 415 to 0 to outlaw Spyware. 415 to 0! When was the last time you heard that any vote in the House of Representatives was unanimous?

For those of you who do not know what Spyware is, I will tell you.

Spyware programs get into your computer, monitor your activities and then disrupt your time on the computer by “popping up” numerous ads that the Spyware designer wants you to see but that you want nothing to do with.

Spyware can sap computing power, crash machines, slow them down to a crawl and bury users under a blizzard of unwanted ads.

I have taken the pledge. I will never buy anything that is advertised by a pop-up that invades my computer. I don’t care how much I want that product or service. If it comes via pop-up, it’s history.

In any case, the House bill would provide for penalties of up to five years in prison for those people convicted of installing such programs without a computer user’s permission.

Another, earlier House bill (passed 399-1 (I wonder who that one was). That bill would add hefty civil penalties to the jail sentence.

It’s not enough.

Death at hard labor!

Do you know that some people really invite the Spyware into their computer without knowing that they are doing it?

There are a number of programs that computer users are offered for free that bring the Spyware with them.

For example, I put “Weatherbug” on my computer to keep track of the daily weather in Rockaway. Every time I booted up my computer, there was Weatherbug keeping me advised. The only problem is, when Weatherbug is installed on your computer, it brings with it a number of Spyware programs as well.

There is a horoscope that does the same. Comet Curser, which allows you to change your curser to cutesy designs in another program that is a cover-up for Spyware.

Gain Software, which says you should love it because it give you money-off offers via pop-ups, is another that comes unbidden because you installed some free software that you thought was benign but was smoke and mirrors for Spyware.

Try and uninstall the Spyware programs. Up pops a series of questions about why you want to get rid of those wonderful programs that are simply giving you the wonderful opportunity to buy some wonderful product or service. You can’t.

Either you get a screen that asks you to answer two dozen questions and then prompts you to try again because you did not answer them correctly or it simply reinstalls the programs five minutes after you uninstalled them.

The worst Spyware programs send pop-up ads to your computer and then attempt to sell you a program that will stop the pop-ups and remove the Spyware. What chutzpah.

Death at hard labor!

“When I purchase a computer and install it in my home, I expect to be the only one who has access to it,” one angry legislator said. “But it has become common practice for online spies to bury themselves in computer systems and watch every move computer users make.”

The Spyware plot is insidious. Let’s say that I go onto Amazon.com to find Philip Roth’s new book.

The Spyware locked into my computer reports that fact to its server, which in turn orders it to send me several pop-up ads for book sales sites.

The Spyware owner is then paid by the book sales sites for providing me with that “service,” whether I wanted it or not.

Even worse, should I order a book and pay with a card, the Spyware can pick up the keystrokes that put my card number into the computer and capture that number for later use by those who run the Spyware.

Five years in jail and millions of dollars in fines is not enough.

A number of state legislatures have passed anti-Spyware laws of their own.

The people who put Spyware on your computer argue that they have a First Amendment right to do so as well as the right to do business as they see fit.

They are worse than slime.

I would urge our local state legislators to get working on a bill that would outlaw Spyware in New York State, but pols such as Audrey Pheffer, Mal Smith and Michelle Titus largely don’t count for much in the legislative scene. Only three people in New York State matter when it comes to making laws and deciding which laws will pass muster.

The three men who count are Governor George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Give them a call. Send them an Email. Let them know that you are not going to stand for Spyware any longer.

There is no First Amendment right to invade your home nor is there a right to invade your computer.

Let’s end Spyware once and for all.

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