Follow the Money

When Dave and I were at the Spyware Conference in Washington DC, we were approached by Avi Nader, CEO of WhenU. Avi was upset because we were passing our WhenU research to various reporters at the conference. Avi cornered Dave and me and asked, “Why are you picking on us? Why don’t you focus on the guys doing identity theft, and other horrible deeds?” I have had a lot of time to think about this question and my answer. Avi, if you’re listening, here is my response.

I actually believe that spyware is a misnomer. It’s part of a larger category of software that installs itself without the user’s knowledge. It does not matter what the software does once it is on your PC, it is the fact it installed without your permission and knowledge. This is wrong, and this is what we are fighting at PC Pitstop. If one does not know the software is running, they cannot uninstall it, nor can they attribute their decreased PC performance or reliability to a program they don’t know is running. This goes for viruses, malware, spyware, adware. The whole lot of them.

Back to Avi’s question. The problem with WhenU and Gator in particular is that they are making money sneaking onto your PC. A lot of it. In fact, Gator had the cajones to file an S1 with the SEC for their IPO. I believe that their business models are predicated on the user’s being unaware that their software is running. Avi, you admit yourself that over 80% of your users uninstall your software. I can only assume that the other 20% don’t know (yet) that the software is running on their PC. If users became miraculously aware that WhenU was running on their PC, WhenU’s revenue would go to zero in less than a month.

But this is about making money and the nature of capitalism. Basic economics suggest that when money is being made (in this case hand over fist), more and more companies will enter the market. What does that mean for us? As more ‘adware’ companies enter the market, we will see a marked increase in the volume and variety of ways software sneaks onto our PC’s. All designed to pop up more ads onto your PC while you are surfing. But it gets worse, we are going to see more PC’s running more than one adware program. It stands to reason that the more spyware and adware a PC is running, the worse the PC’s performance and reliability.

What is our government doing? Not much. Gator and WhenU and others are to the point where they can afford to hire lobbyists. They are working with our government to define legal ways for them to sneak their software onto PC’s. It seems they are having some success. Schwarzenegger just signed a bill that legitimizes some forms of adware. There are also several ‘anti-spyware’ bills at the federal level. Our fear is that rather than curtail spyware, they will define ways for it to be legitimized. Once spyware is legitimized, venture capital money will flow like a river into the segment. And the victims will be us. And we thought that spam was bad! This will ultimately impact every web site and user on the internet.

So there’s your answer, Avi. Please don’t take it personally. I actually think you’re a nice guy. But it’s not you, it’s what you represent. Your company is a harbinger of a very different internet than we have today. One where we are barraged with pop up ads, and users lose control over their surfing experience. Maybe one day when this is all over, I’ll buy you a beer, but until then, we are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Sincerely,

Rob Cheng
CEO PC Pitstop LLC

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