We are losing the battle against spyware
-and for a long time I didn't see it coming
For a long time I thought that because of Windows updates, improvements to antimalware technology and persistent education of end users we were winning the battle against spyware.
Earlier this year I realized I had been blindsided. Badly. I tried writing about it but failed. Blame it on trying to write a real blog post that could be shared and upvoted and nodded to.
So here I go again, second attempt, writing it up on the train home just get this stuff posted:
In bad old days we had problems with spyware. I'm not going to repeat my previous attempt at summarizing what adware and spyware was, complete with a lists og references and a timeline, but in one sentence they often:
uploaded user data or tracking data and/or showed (often very stupid and irrelevant) ads and/or messed with your browser settings to set another home page, typically while slowing down your computer in the process
There. That was easier.
Now, some of you might already start to see where this is going, but for the rest of you I'll take it step by step:
- Bonzi Buddy (recent discussion about Bonzi Buddy on HN) and the rest of the annoyances from last decade are gone.
- But: unless I actively block ads, most websides are still full of ads and they are again dumb and irrelevant after a few years where Google text ads dominated
- And: I still get tracked by dozens of companies, only now it happens even if I haven't installed anything or clicked agree to any EULA.
- And: despite how much better our computers has become and how much faster our networks has become; most of the web is still not fast, some tracker is always hanging or some stupid video ad is loading way too much traffic.
Yes. This means I now think Google and others has copied the spyware industry. To all old slashdotters: you where right.
I've defended Google for the longest time but the similarity is now just too striking:
- instead of simple blue contextual text ads we now get the same irrelevant banners everywhere – just like with the old adware
- this means they now have to track us around the entire web – not too far from old spyware
- and like last generation of adware and spyware they don't care if they bring our machines to a crawling halt in the process.
Some will probably say it was like this from the beginning. I'd say they weren't. The early ads were unintrusive. They were targeted to the thing you were reading about, not what some dumb AI picked to insult me and my family today.
So what do I hope? That Google crashes and burns? No, rather that they go back to being good old Google, just wise enough not to become what it is today ever again.
Meanwhile I'm staying away. DuckDuckGo is now often better than Google for searches and I don't feel bad about using adblockers anymore.
With some luck EU and US regulators will also assist us in getting the web back on track.
PS: do I feel sad about newspapers who don't get their ad money?
No. I pay for two newspapers directly and also pay even more for one big media house from my taxes. I will be happy to pay for additional articles I read from other sources as well, but as long as everyone demand that I subscribe to read anything? Forget about it.