Scumware

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What Is Scumware?

As those trying to stop it define it:

“Scumware” is software that automatically puts links, and/or pops up windows on websites without the webmasters’s knowledge or permission. The unwanted links contain affiliate codes which divert any potential customer to the affiliate code of those who illegally added the code before customers have a chance to complete any transaction. As a consequence, legitmate affiliate webmasters are cheated out of any commissions from sales generated from their traffic.

So some of the pop-up ads you may see don’t come from the websites you’re visiting, they’re coming from the scumware program.

Even worse, let’s say you click through and buy something. Maybe you clicked through because the ad said a portion of the sale would go to some charity. Guess what? You thought that money was going to widows and orphans and instead, that money goes to the scumware makers.

I’m not easily impressed but this is low.

For those who believe in ulterior motives, I checked with Joe, and we don’t have any ads that work on commission, so we’re not directly affected. While we do have a limitied pop-up ad, it’s quite possible if you have scumware installed that additional ones are popping up due to that. We’ve included
some Java code on the front page which is supposed to tell you whether or not you have these programs on your computer.

How It Works

The NY Times just did an article about this.

(BTW, the NY Times, and perhaps even more surprisingly the Wall Street Journal are devoting more and better attention to technological living issues. The NY Times has long had a Tuesday computer section, but on Mondays, the WSJ now has a tech section. You can register with the NY Times for free, the WSJ requires a paid subscription.)

You download one of those stealware programs like KaZaa, Morpheus, LimeWire, BearShare and others, you click on some authorization screen as part of the installation. After that, when you click through on a website to buy something, the website doesn’t get the commission, the stealware people get it instead.

You see, inside all that legal language in the authorization screeen, you agreed to that.

The Times article has comments from these companies saying that it isn’t really stealing (and this is at least reasonably debatable; a court should decide that), and that they took it out, or did something else, but in at least the case of Morpheus, it appears based on the comments made by some at Tiger Direct that Morpheus had it in, took it out, then put it back in again.

Well, a few places like Amazon and Tiger Direct have delisted these . . . beings . . . from their affiliates list. But plenty more haven’t, and this site has been set up to encourage online resellers to join the list. (They also have quite a few links if you want to learn more about this.)

If you think I’m calling folks names, you ought to see what webmasters are saying about this (again, you’ll have to register to read this).

What Can I Do?

The Times article and a few of the other links above have instructions on how to remove a few of the more egregious offenders. You may also wish to install Ad-Aware to flush out your system.

What Did You Expect?

If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

When a company specializes in creating software built to bilk, is it surprising that the same folks would try to rip you and anybody else off, too?

Of course, they’re ripping you off. You clicked through that website ad thinking any commission was going to the website or some charity or somebody besides the place it’s going. You’re getting extra pop-up ads thanks to their efforts.

If this isn’t enough, don’t worry, these guys have much bigger plans for you. They’re planning on grabbing your excess computer cycles and selling them. Just like SETI, except this SETI will stand for Search for Extra Thefted Income. Oh, I’m sure they’ll have some authorization to do that buried in the software and claim it’s legal.

But would you buy a used car from these people?

Gee, imagine the Feds busting these people and telling them, “Well, you can spend five, ten years in Club Fed, or you can put in a little code so we can have the little darlings AGREE to be tracked by us.” Would you want to bet they wouldn’t do it? Would you want to bet these guys wouldn’t turn in their own mothers to avoid that?

Of course, there are and will be those who’ll strip out these items, then make it available, but how many users will make the effort to look, or even be aware that they need to look?

To Summarize

We have people who make programs for thieves. Since the thieves won’t pay for their tools, the theft toolmakers have to make the program not only steal for the thieves, but steal for them, too, either from the places where the thieves go or from the thieves themselves.

The thieves don’t like this, so other thieves steal the theft program, strip out the second-level theft, and offer the stripped-out stolen programs to thieves who like their stealing unadulterated?

There’s something awfully funny about this.

Or maybe it’s just “There is no honor among thieves” in action.

Ed

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