When adware goes bad

OK, granted, it was never good to begin with, but if Microsoft gets their way, it’s about to become a whole lot worse. A link to this article has just been sent to me, courtesy of my Friendly Network Admin – and I’m shamelessly copying and pasting the article content here.

It’s such a tremendously bad idea that it’s almost bound to succeed. Microsoft has filed another patent, this one for an “advertising framework” that uses “context data” from your hard drive to show you advertisements and “apportion and credit advertising revenue” to ad suppliers in real time. Yes, Redmond wants to own the patent on the mother of all adware.The application, filed in 2006, describes a multi-faceted, robust ad-delivering system that lives on a “user computer, whether it’s part of the OS, an application or integrated within applications.”“Applications, tools, or utilities may use an application program interface to report context data tags such as key words or other information that may be used to target advertisements,” says the filing. “The advertising framework may host several components for receiving and processing the context data, refining the data, requesting advertisements from an advertising supplier, for receiving and forwarding advertisements to a display client for presentation, and for providing data back to the advertising supplier.”

The adware framework would leave almost no data untouched in its quest to sell you stuff. It would inspect “user document files, user e-mail files, user music files, downloaded podcasts, computer settings, computer status messages (e.g., a low memory status or low printer ink),” and more. How could we have been so blind as to not see the marketing value in computer status messages?

The software would also free advertising from its traditional browser yoke. “A word processor may display a banner ad along the top of a window, similar to a toolbar, while a graphical ad may be displayed in a frame associated with the application. A digital editor for photos or movies may support video-based advertisements,” the patent application says.

The patent application, first unearthed by InformationWeek, gives the impression that your software would have more control over the advertising than you would. “An e-mail client may specify that ads from competitors must be excluded, that its own display client must be used… (that) no more than 4 ads per hour are allowed, and that only text or graphical… advertisements are supported.” The patent makes no mention of any method by which an actual user might exert control, nor does it mention very real privacy or security concerns.

That’s okay. It’s still a good thing. It says so right in the application: “The ability to derive and process context data from local sources rather than monitor interactions with a remote entity, such as a server, benefits both consumers and advertisers by delivering more tightly targeted advertisements. The benefit to the user is the perception that the ads are more relevant, and therefore, less of an interruption. The benefit to the advertiser is better focus and a higher chance of conversion to a sale.”

The patent is a fascinating exercise in advertising delivery systems. But surely that’s all it is—an exercise. No way anyone would ever actually make a thing like this. Right?

Right? Wrong! If anyone is going to make something like this, it will be Microsoft doing it. It surely wouldn’t be difficult to modify the search indexer in Vista to send information on the content on our files back to base camp, and I’m sure you’d see this creep in sooner or later, disguised as a “security update”.

There are some rather worrying questions that need to be addressed here. Firstly, how can being spammed with ads be seen as a good thing for the consumer? If anything, too much advertising tends to put me off the product rather than make me rush out to buy it. Secondly, will we be able to turn all of this advertising off, or will it be forced upon us? I can imagine companies wanting to turn this off, as being bombarded with ads (even if it is only 4 ads per hour) can only hurt productivity – which could cost Microsoft if people move over to Linux because of it. Thirdly, privacy and ethics come into the picture here. It is just downright unethical to spy on users and spam them with unwanted advertising. Unfortunately, it seems that in today’s capitalist world, profit is more important than ethics. Just look at Telkom, for example.

And here’s an interesting one. Will security software classify this as adware, and if so, will they try to disable it? We could have an interesting situation if a piece of security software classifies the operating system that it runs under as a virus.

The day that this comes to fruition is the day that I uninstall Windows and permanently move over to Linux (instead of me just having it on my dev box) – even if it means the end of gaming for me.

Save the world! Drink less water!

This was published in the “letters to the editor” section of the Sunday Tribune this morning:

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry is really misguiding us on how to solve the current water shortage crisis.

The best way for us to save water, which is essential to our future, is that we stop eating meat completely. Animals raised for food consume and waste huge amounts of water for our flesh-eating needs, and just advocating such acts is not morally justifiable.

According to a recent pamphlet brought out by Animal Rights Africa concerning the fight against global warming and how veganism is the best option to fight it, “Raising animals for food consumes more than half of all the water used in the world. It takes 11 365 litres of water to produce a kilogram of meat but only 272 litres to produce a kilogram of wheat.”

The department should have at the top of its list on “how to save water 101”, a “going vegan strategy for all”, and not a “don’t water your lawn too much” or “don’t take too long showers”, because that is absurd.

As Africans we’re being hit hardest by global warming. Why not be at the forefront of fighting it, by abstaining from consuming animal products completely?

Van Zijl Loots
Cape Town

In my humble opinion, Van Zijl Loots is a nutcase and an idiot. He’s probably the sort of person that would feed a newborn baby soya milk and apple juice.

The figures that are mentioned in this letter appear to be nothing more than sensationalist propaganda. Granted, it’s estimated that ~70% of the world’s water is used for agricultural purposes (source), but it’s probably mainly irrigation. We need that water to grow the kilogram of wheat. Cows just eat grass, which grows naturally. Wheat doesn’t grow naturally in a lot of places, it needs that irrigation. I haven’t researched the stated water consumption figures myself, but they do seem grossly exaggerated to me.

Another argument to consider is land usage and diet, and how they relate to each other. Take a drive through the Free State and you’ll see mielie fields as far as the eye can see. Now, consider the possibility of the entire population of South Africa going vegan. You’re going to need a whole lot more mielie fields to feed everyone, and considering that you get more energy out of meat than out of plants, you may not have enough room (especially if you live in a country like ours and bring land redistribution into the equation). It’s the same reason why more cars don’t run on renewable energy sources such as ethanol (as seen in The Amazing Race a few weeks back); greedy oil companies aside, there’s just not enough room to grow all that sugar cane and feed everyone on this planet at the same time.

And as far as this nutcase’s extreme beliefs go – if someone wants to eat meat, tough. Get over it.

A little programming poem

This was posted in one of the Facebook groups that I’m a member of, and I can’t pass up posting it here.

Major bugs have little bugs, which, being fixed, can cause ’em.
And little bugs from tiny bugs, and on it goes ad nauseam.
The bigger bugs themselves can be pernicious, tangled creatures;
So suck it up and ship the code and we’ll just call them “features”.

Help me test

We’ve developed a product called Yakkin at work – it’s a cellphone messaging app, not very different from MXit. It’s almost complete but it needs some final bug testing before we go live with it.

That’s where you, my loyal (*COUGH*) blog readers come in. I’d like you guys to install it on your phone, play around with it and report the inevitable bugs to me.

To get it, point your cellphone at http://wap.yakkin.net. My contact (Jabber ID) in Yakkin is 27833922621@yakkin.net.

Have fun testing…

UPDATE: I suppose I should mention that it doesn’t work at my phone at the moment – our Yakkin developer is currently borrowing my phone, trying to figure out why… 😉