Is Big Brother is watching you?
—Gary W. Priester
Deciding it was time to add some security to my wife's computer, I purchased and downloaded a software utility from the Web, Pest Patrol, that prevents companies from planting spyware, (also known as third party cookies) on your computer, with, or often without your knowledge. More and more companies are planting spyware cookies on your computer when you download free software, or surf the Internet. These spyware cookies gather and share personal information with other companies that you may not want shared. Often we grant these people permission when we fail to read those user agreements which we have to accept before we can run these freeware applications, and even some purchased software. The fine print down towards the bottom of many of these agreements reveals that information may be collected and shared with other third party companies. But who bothers to read all that verbiage? Most of us just click Accept so we can start using our new software.
The information gathered can include what Websites you visited, passwords you may have used to log onto protected sites, purchases made, your name and address, telephone, e-mail address, and any other information you may have included when you made an on-line purchase. This information can then be shared with other merchants who can target advertising specifically related to your surfing and purchasing preferences. It's alarming!
When you first launch Pest Patrol, you should scan your entire hard drive which I did. When it was finished, it had found over 800 spyware and third party cookies on my wife's computer! And the worst part was Pest Patrol was unable to delete them.
I noticed that most of the cookies were from a company called Gator. I did a search on www.Google.com for Gator and struck gold. Gator is a company that bundles spyware with many downloadable freeware applications such as KaZaA, a multi-media player used by young people all over the world. I sent an angry e-mail message to Gator's support demanding to have their software removed from my computer immediately. They responded promptly with an URL to a Website that detects any of their products on your computer and provides simple directions for how to remove them. The next time I ran Pest Patrol, there were only four suspects, all of which I was able to delete.
Before I ruin the entire world of e-commerce, let me say that most Web-based companies are honest and respect your privacy. Most cookies placed on your computer when you visit most Websites are benign and beneficial and can remember you when you visit certain sites. These cookies are not spyware and do not follow you as you surf the Web. Most e-commerce companies will not share your information without your consent. But when in doubt, read the fine print before you press Accept, with any software agreement, and read the privacy statement that is on every reputable e-commerce merchant's site. For more information about Pest Patrol, visit www.PestPatrol.com.
Click here to see if you have any Gator software on your computer. This web page will tell you in a fraction of a second (scary?) if your do and give you very simple instructions for getting this spyware safely removed from your computer.
Next month I'll tell you about my kiss-and-tell keyboard.