Do You Feel Like Someone is
Watching You When You Are On The Internet?
If you are on the Internet, the
chances are very good you are being watched by advertisers who
monitor your Internet usage to determine what products you might
want to buy. “Spyware” is the name for software that
is downloaded into your computer, often without your knowledge
or consent. The spyware is installed as tracking software in your
computer and it “calls home” using your Internet connection
to report where you are—and have been—on the Internet.
Spyware is also known more officially as “advertising supported
software,” or “adware.”
Spyware not only invades your privacy,
but it can also substantially slow down your personal computer,
swamp you with unwanted pop-up advertisements, and (in its worse
forms) steal your passwords and credit card numbers. Recently,
my home computer was analyzed for spyware because it was taking
much longer to load websites and I was bombarded with annoying
pop-up ads. Sure enough, the computer had downloaded quite a bit
Spyware is not illegal and advertisers
often argue that ethical companies do not collect sensitive data
from your computer and will not disclose the nature of the data
being collected. Advertisers also argue that you are essentially
anonymous in their tracking.
However, the U.S. Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) is concerned enough about spyware use that it
held a Spyware Workshop in April. The FTC is reviewing several
issues: (1) what is the impact of spyware on a computer’s
resources—does it effect consumers’ ability to use
their computers, (2) to what extent do spyware programs hijack
computer browsers, (3) do spyware programs pose security hazards,
and (4) can spyware capture a consumer’s computer and use
it to send out unwanted e-mails?
Consumer advocates are concerned
because spyware technology is capable of sending sensitive data
such as passwords and there is little or no way for the consumer
to control what information is being sent.
If you are concerned, you may want
to visit www.spychecker.com. This site allows you to check what
software you are being asked to download to determine if it is
spyware. This site also offers free programs to help your computer
block spyware. One free program is “Ad-Aware,” a program
offered by Lavasoft. According to Lavasoft, Ad-aware scans your
memory; registry; and hard, removable, and optical drives for
known data-mining, aggressive advertising, and tracking components.
It then lists the results and offers to remove or quarantine the
Before downloading Ad-Aware or any
similar program, be aware that removing certain tracking components
may affect your use of related software. For example, I regularly
delete Internet cookies. However, when I do so, this often makes
it more time-consuming for me to download certain websites. Therefore,
I recommend you fully read the included Ad-Aware documentation
before removing any files.
The FTC is continuing its review
of spyware and you can access its site at www.ftc.gov if you want
to monitor the progress of its discussions on this important privacy