Teen-Aged Laptop Forensics, Adware, and Me

Yesterday was the annual back-to-school IT day in my household. All laptops were called to the kitchen table for tuning and reconditioning before being sent off to college and prep school where they will decline and corrode into uselessness and entropy in the hands of their indifferent owners.

The infestation of my daughter’s Dell Latitude was breathtaking to behold. As I labored in regedit trying to hunt down some particularly pernicious trojan horse, I kept asking her: "What do you click on to get this stuff? Don’t you read anything? What are you downloading?"

An afternoon of Lavasoft and Norton Anti-Virus, turning off system restore, and booting into safe mode did nothing to improve my mood. Un-installing casinos, and such wonders as the ABI Direct Revenue network, Claria, and other "consumer advertising services" called into question the judgment, intelligence, and credulity of my teenagers.

The case of ABI — aka "A Better Internet", aka "Direct Revenue LLC" — is fascinating. Trying to uninstall this program from XP’s control panel popped open a … pop-up which directed me to a website (myPCtuneup.com)  where I could download the "uninstaller." There, with all expectations of having my pants pulled down, my bank account drained, and one of my kidney’s harvested, I was finally asked to comment on my reasons for ripping the thing out by the roots. My reply, unprintable of course, essentially wished on the company’s executive management team an infestation of colon cancer. Given their alleged penchant for filing cease-and-desist orders on anyone who characterizes them as malware, I should expect nothing less.

The saddest thing to read is a thread on a teen-ager site where ABI is discussed, and they too wonder if they are just going to descend into a further world of hurt by downloading the "uninstall" tool at myPCtuneup.com.

I checked out the biographies of the management team at Direct Revenue, wondering what type of people would run such a business. The resumes are a who’s who of dot.bomb all-stars. Razorfish, Dash, Agency.com, etc.. The company’s hiring of a privacy consultant and recently a Chief Privacy Officer belies some pressure on them to brush up their image. Perhaps the Gator->Claria renaming strategy is called for.

Well, at least I got some satisfaction out of the knowledge that other were so ticked off at Direct Revenue’s Aurora infestation that class action suits were being filed.

The bigger question is this: what marketer in their right mind would buy space on an adware network? Is there any calculation for the ill-will that accrues when someone like myself, in an afternoon of playing "whack-a-mole" sees a brand pop-up over and over? This mindless pursuit of impressions at all cost, even under the tenuous connection of "behavioral marketing" — the latest Orwellian spin by Claria et al over these types of networks — is the rotten core of advertising in general, the mindlessness that made Madison Avenue a synonym for venal deceit in the 60s, and is undermining the online publishing world at a rapid rate.

This targets the clueless, the trusting, and the helpless, gives rise to the phenomenon of people throwing away infested PCs rather than invest a day in restoring them back to purity.

 

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write