2005 is shaping up to be a very interesting year. Major League Baseball is being turned upside down this year due to former player, Jose Canseco’s book, Juiced. Baseball will never be the same, and one day we will look back on this period in baseball with a form of amazement that it could have happened at all. As I think about it, I can not help but see the parallels between spyware and baseball’s steroid problem.
At the heart of both problems is money and the basics of our capitalist society. The problem with steroids is that baseball was rewarding the most serious abusers. Barry Bonds, Mark Maguire, Jose Canseco. These are the biggest names in the game, and more importantly the richest players in the game. These guys quickly learned that the more steroids they do, the more homers they belt, and the more money they make. But if we take this to the natural conclusion, if baseball is going to reward the most serious steroid users, it only follows that one day, every baseball player would be a steroid user. And this, obviously, we cannot tolerate.
Same as steroids, the most serious problem with spyware is that it is all related to money and capitalism. There is a never ending debate on the definition of spyware, and I would like to add another one. Let’s define spyware as a company whose business model is predicated on sneaking software onto a user’s PC. Given this premise, we are rewarding these companies for sneaking software onto our PC’s. And just like steroids, the more money they make, more and more imitators and copy cats will try to enter the fold. All trying to sneak more software onto our PC’s. Just like in baseball, if nobody does anything, it’s going to get a whole lot worse.
Congress and the Status Quo
But we have to ask ourselves the larger question? How could this happen? Problems of this magnitude. Millions of computer users and millions of baseball fans. And for both questions, the answers are the same. In the case of baseball, many in Congress had already made multiple inquiries into drug use in baseball, and public demands by John McCain for baseball to clean up its act. But despite all of the action, no progress was made.
The FTC held a spyware workshop in April 2004. They certainly were aware of the issue. One year later, they came out with their 62 page assessment. Basically a lot of regurgitation and little to no action. Aaarrrgghhh.
Why? Why? Why? Well, there is a simple answer. Congress needs to be fair and unbiased, right? If they came out against steroids, what would that do to the number of home runs? It would change the way players are compensated and the player’s union might not stand for that. It is really a fairly complicated problem.
Same with spyware. What about all of the jobs created by spyware companies? Should Congress get involved in free market activities? Plus, let’s not forget that spyware companies now have their own lobbyists in Washington, too.
But this is what is wrong. We don’t need Fox News, fair and balanced. We need someone to stand up for the people that don’t have lobbyists. Like me, and the millions upon millions of “victims” of spyware. Let me say this. I am biased about spyware. I have no sympathy for these companies at all. What they do is fundamentally WRONG, and the fact that they are making money doing it, galls me to no end. One day soon, I hope that steroids will become illegal in baseball, and one day, I pray that spyware will meet a similar fate.
We need a whistle blower
There is one big difference between spyware and baseball, ethics. If you ask Jose Canseco or Mark Maguire whether baseball needs to change its steroid rules? I think they would all answer with an unqualified yes. But if you ask the spyware companies, they would give an unqualified No.
The difference? Jose Canseco. We can question his motives, but he did what no one else inside or outside of baseball could do. He brought enough exposure and credibility to the issue to apall the nation. In twenty years, it might be that Jose Canseco will be more famous than Barry Bonds. Wouldn’t that be something?
But what we need in the spyware world is a whistle blower. Hopefully an insider in one of the spyware companies. They don’t have to do it for ethical reasons. Same as Canseco, you can get a lucrative book deal uncovering something that many do not want uncovered. I hope you’re reading out there. What we, PC users, need more than anything is another Jose Canseco.