This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

June 30, 2004 - adware, spyware

It's been a long time since I've used a Windows machine. At the dawn of the World Wide Web, I used a Macintosh (pre-OSX), and for the past two years, I use Linux. So I missed out on something my friends have begun to complain about: trying to fight off the onslaught of adware and spyware.

It seems to start innocently enough. You click on some kind of pop up ad, and suddenly, windows are flying open all over the place. After that, every time you use the browser, you get a flood of advertising. Sometimes it's just junk. Sometimes, it's pornography. Sometimes, everything you type -- including passwords to your bank accounts -- gets gathered up and passed along to strangers.

There are various free tools to help you scrub all this out: Spybot Search and Destroy, (available at www.spybot.info) and something called Ad-aware (www.lavasoft.de). They track down all the intrusive entries in the Windows Registry, cookies, file shares, etc., and wipe them out.

Except they don't. The ads get hooked into new computer crannies all the time, and even the most current versions of the anti-spyware can't catch them all. So you think you've got yourself all cleaned out, and the first time you browse, back it all comes. I've talked to several computer professionals who have spent hours on machines both at work and at home, trying to disinfect them.

Library machines have been afflicted, too.

The growth of this phenomenon, along with viruses and spam, is the tragedy of the commons all over again. Offer the wonderful medium of the World Wide Web, and what do we make of it? A commercial. All the wonderful efficiencies get eaten up in shoveling through the garbage.

It's like going to the movies. I'm old enough to remember when you got two cartoons before the main attraction, and the occasional double-feature. Now, I seem to have to pay for the privilege of watching advertisements. Sometimes, I have to endure watching the SAME commercial twice in a row. Note to Hershey: Your commercial succeeded in making me remember your product (Hershey's kisses). I used to LIKE your product; now it just makes me mad. Happy?

Thus far, I've been spared the problem of adware. For one thing, I use Mozilla, the Open Source browser. BY DEFAULT, pop-up browsing is turned off. Mozilla also has an email client that you can teach to identify spam -- greatly reducing the drag on your time.

But the issue here isn't just an operating system that is both ubiquitous and ridiculously vulnerable (Microsoft). I can, and I do, advise people to move to Linux -- I particularly recommend downloading either Knoppix or PCLinuxOS Preview 7 to a CD. You can run the whole operating system and applications from the CD. If you like it, overwrite the whole computer with something that the spyware and adware can't touch. Moreover, Linux applications aren't always urging you to upgrade. You can use your computer in relative peace.

But I suspect even this is only a holding action. Lately, for instance, more and more spam is slipping through my defenses. I am not a cynical person, but this isn't a technical problem, finally. It's psychological and moral.

So long as people believe their abuse of a shared resource is acceptable -- whether that resource is the World Wide Web, the telephone network, our national parks, the environment generally, or even a public library -- the quality of that resource will diminish.

But that reminds me of the words of novelist Elizabeth Gaskell: “I'll not listen to reason . . . . Reason always means what someone else has got to say.”

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