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Spam, Adware, uninvited popups...

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 9-Jul-2006 11:52

An article on Businessweek is an interesting read for any major geek. The Plot To Hijack Your Computer tells us the tales behind Direct Revenue, a New York-based company that distributes programs, that some of us in the real world would call "spyware", "adware" and other names we couldn't write here.

Direct Revenue's swift rise illustrates the intertwining of spyware and mainstream online marketing. The Web is the hottest game in advertising, but what's rarely acknowledged is the extent to which unsavory pop-ups boost the returns. Here's how it often works: Sellers of advertising, ranging from giant Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO ) to much smaller networks, recruit clients, tally the clicks their ads generate, and charge accordingly. But then Yahoo and the other advertising companies sign up partners that distribute the ads beyond their own sites in return for a fee, and those partners sign up other partners. Down the line, a big piece of the business winds up in the hands of outfits like Direct Revenue, which disseminate the ads as pop-ups and share revenue with their more mainstream partners. Some advertisers say their messages have appeared in pop-ups without their permission...

Direct Revenue has struggled to fend off a lawsuit filed in April by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The state court action alleges that Direct Revenue crossed a legal line by installing advertising programs in millions of computers without users' consent. Shining a light on the shadowy spyware trade, the suit asserts that the company violated New York civil laws against false advertising, computer tampering, and trespassing.

This article is based in part on more than 1,000 pages of Direct Revenue's internal e-mail and other documents included in court filings. BusinessWeek has reviewed additional documents and interviewed dozens of industry insiders, including 12 current and former Direct Revenue employees and executives.

The company's sales philosophy, according to current and former employees, was heavily shaped by Jesse Stein, a Wharton School-educated marketer whose successes before joining the company included selling VigRX, an herbal penile-enlargement supplement. VigRX may sound familiar because, to win customers, Stein inundated e-mail in-boxes with spam promoting the product. In 2003, when the ABC News (DIS ) 20/20 program identified what it said were the biggest online spammers, it featured VigRX and showed one of Stein's e-mails. He reveled in the notoriety. On his desk at Direct Revenue, Stein, now 36, kept a framed 20/20 screen shot of his VigRX spam, former colleagues say.


You should read the whole article, really. It brings a lot to light and almost explains the whole state of the Internet.

From early on, a small group of programmers at Direct Revenue focused on how to protect their employer's programs once they were lodged in a computer, current and former employees say. The team called itself Dark Arts after the term for evil magic in the Harry Potter series. One of the biggest threats Dark Arts addressed came from competing software. The presence of multiple spyware programs can so cripple a computer that no ads manage to get seen.

Dark Arts crafted software "torpedoes" that blasted rival spyware off computers' hard drives. Competitors aimed similar weapons back at Direct Revenue's software, but few could match the wizardry of Dark Arts. One adversary, Avenue Media, filed suit in federal court in Seattle in 2004, alleging that in a matter of days, Direct Revenue torpedoes had cut in half the number of people using one of Avenue Media's programs. The suit settled without money changing hands, according to an attorney for Avenue Media, which is based in Curaçao. "This is ad warfare," explains former Direct Revenue product manager Reza Khan. "Only the toughest and stickiest codes survive.


How ridiculous, if it wasn't something affecting millions of unaware users around the globe trying to simply send and receive an e-mail.

In early 2005 the company was bundling its products with a file-sharing program called Morpheus, which users could download onto their computers. Morpheus required that Direct Revenue make its software easy to spot in a computer's "Add/Remove" panel, which is the registry where a user can find most legitimate software and delete it. Direct Revenue agreed at first but after a few months noticed that thousands of new users it gained via Morpheus were quickly deleting the ad software. Kaufman, a co-founder of Direct Revenue, sent an e-mail to colleagues in February, 2005, saying the company should drop the Mr. Nice Guy routine. "We need to experiment with less user-friendly uninstall methodologies," he wrote. The distribution agreement with Morpheus ended within three months.


There you have it...











Mix06 Sessions available for download

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 9-Jul-2006 10:43

If you couldn't make it to Microsoft's sponsored all web-connected Mix06 event this time (like me, because our baby Isabella was due on those dates), then good news ahead...

You can now download all sessions, including Microsoft's Bill Gates keynote from a special site: Microsoft Mix06: a 72 hour conversation.

This was the pitch for the event:

If you do business on the Web today, it's likely that more than 90% of your customers reach you via Microsoft® Internet Explorer and/or Microsoft Windows®. Come to MIX and learn how the next versions of these products, due later this year, are going to dramatically improve your customers' experience. Explore a wide range of new Web technologies that Microsoft is delivering to help you unlock new revenue opportunities and lower development costs. Learn about the future of Internet Explorer and join us in a discussion about how we can build the ideal Web surfing platform to meet your needs and those of your customers.


Going there now to download some of the audio clips.





Visit wormy!

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 8-Jul-2006 14:39

Wormy, the admin at wormholecreations.com.au has just sent me a couple of t-shirts promoting his site:


He's one of the new Microsoft MVP Mobile Devices, and his website has lots of information on Windows Mobile software and hardware, plus dedicated support sections for some best seller software.

Hmmm. These are nice t-shirts, with different designs. And I have to prepare some of our own for the Geekzone 2006 coming soon.






Dust off your computers

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 7-Jul-2006 09:26

It is winter here in New Zealand now and temperatures are really low. In the last few days the South Island had the largest snowstorms in years (picture here), and rain is pouring in the North Island. Just yesterday the news on TV let us know about a hundred or so skiers who were trapped on Turoa after half meter of snow fall in a couple of hours.

And with all this cold, my Windows Server at home (which runs my Exchange Server and Newsgator Enterprise Server instances) kept shutting down every few hours, with the sound alarm characteristic of overheating CPU. A sound I haven't heard ever on this box.

Wholy cow. It's cold here, what's going on? It's a Windows XP Pro box running Windows Server 2005 R2 and Windows Server as the guest OS. Of course this machine runs only the essential for this task, plus a copy of Skype (seeing that this box is running 24/7 plugged into a Belkin UPS) so that I have all day VoIP access.

So I installed the very good SpeedFan, which I have been using on my laptop and desktop for some time now. It informs you of the temperature from all sensors inside the box, and controls the fans automatically lowering or speeding up those that influence on different components of the box. Very cool. It's great for some laptops that would otherwise be cooking your laps! It also collect information from S.M.A.R.T hard discs and show these (performance, reliability, etc):


I found out that this machine was running at 75C (CPU) and going up when doing too much I/O or when using Skype for voice calls (yep, Skype uses a lot of CPU apparently).

I also have a 1TB Maxtor OneTouch III Firewire drive plugged to this server, to use as a backup in my home/office network, and during the nightly backup it would sometimes heat up the box due to CPU use (caching? Network activity?)

Last night I opened this box, removed all the components, dusted it inside and vaccum cleaned it, removing piles of a gray substance (which must be accumulated dust), and guess what? It runs beautifully again, no more than 54C even under load.

It's still high, comparing with my desktop which runs at 38C, but this is an old machine, not much air flow inside, etc. But it is doing well, the little beast.





The Geekcam page: I think I need a new webcam

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 6-Jul-2006 16:57

I have just (well a few weeks ago) put up the Geekcam on-line. Nothing much there: it just sits on top of my LCD, looking at me. Mainly for use during the Geekzone Weekly On-line chats, but the camera is taking pictures all day (because it just happens that I work full time on Geekzone and in front of this desktop).

I know, the quality seems very low - alas the webcam is a cheap model, and probably not much better, technologically speaking, than the one I bought back in 1997.

I think it's time to upgrade and get a nice 1.3megapixel webcam. I wanted to try one of these Logitech Fusion models. The bad thing is that the only PR contact for Logitech I ever managed to get hold of is some grumpy person in Australia who can't be bothered replying to e-mails (and when he did it was to say something like bugger off). But that was a couple of years ago, and things change, who knows?

If you know of a good webcam, true 1.3 megapixels post in the comments and I will have a look at it.




Microsoft released ActiveSync 4.2

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 6-Jul-2006 16:49

If you have a Windows Mobile device running the latest OS version (Windows Mobile 5.0) then go ahead and download the new ActiveSync 4.2 for your PC.

Microsoft ActiveSync 4.2 is the latest synchronization software for Windows Mobile-based devices.

Changes in ActiveSync 4.2 help resolve connectivity related issues with Microsoft Outlook, proxies, partnerships, and connectivity: 
 
- Microsoft Outlook Improvements: Resolves issues relating to error code 85010014
- Proxy/DTPT interaction Improvements: Improved auto configuration of device Connection Manager settings when desktop has no proxy path to the internet.
- Improved Desktop Pass Thru behavior with ISA proxy failures
- Partnership improvements: Better resolution of multiple devices with the same name syncing with the same desktop
- Connectivity Improvements: Better handling of VPN clients (resolve unbinding of protocols from our RNDIS adapter).
- New auto detection of connectivity failure with user diagnostic alerts.

ActiveSync 4.2 supports PC sync via USB cable, Bluetooth, or infrared connection. 


If you are using Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition or older, please use ActiveSync 3.8 instead.


 



These are the people legislating technology...

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 4-Jul-2006 10:51

Just behind our own New Zealand parliament showing the need of an update in technology matters, here comes the American Senate, as reported by Wired. This is the speech by Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska):

There's one company now you can sign up and you can get a movie delivered to your house daily by delivery service. Okay. And currently it comes to your house, it gets put in the mail box when you get home and you change your order but you pay for that, right.

But this service isn't going to go through the interent and what you do is you just go to a place on the internet and you order your movie and guess what you can order ten of them delivered to you and the delivery charge is free.

Ten of them streaming across that internet and what happens to your own personal internet?

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?

Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially.

So you want to talk about the consumer? Let's talk about you and me. We use this internet to communicate and we aren't using it for commercial purposes.

We aren't earning anything by going on that internet. Now I'm not saying you have to or you want to discrimnate against those people [...]

The regulatory approach is wrong. Your approach is regulatory in the sense that it says "No one can charge anyone for massively invading this world of the internet". No, I'm not finished. I want people to understand my position, I'm not going to take a lot of time. [?]

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck.

It's a series of tubes.

And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

Now we have a separate Department of Defense internet now, did you know that?

Do you know why?

Because they have to have theirs delivered immediately. They can't afford getting delayed by other people.

[...]

Now I think these people are arguing whether they should be able to dump all that stuff on the internet ought to consider if they should develop a system themselves.

Maybe there is a place for a commercial net but it's not using what consumers use every day.

It's not using the messaging service that is essential to small businesses, to our operation of families.

The whole concept is that we should not go into this until someone shows that there is something that has been done that really is a viloation of net neutraility that hits you and me.


Yeah, right.



Reinstalling Windows XP Pro Tablet PC Edition

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 3-Jul-2006 13:04

Oh well, time to replace Microsoft Windows Vista Beta 2 on my Tablet PC with the Windows XP Pro Tablet PC Edition.

Lots of reasons for this, but mainly because I really need stability on a device that is going places with me. As I found out last week in Sydney, the wireless drivers are not stable enough on Windows Vista to allow me to connect to some hotspots, and the new build has some flaws in other areas.

So I decided to give the beta testing a break, resintall a stable OS on this machine and go with this.

Later I will revisit this decision, when we get to a point where the OS is good enough for me to rely on it. Until then, folks, remember this is beta test, so faults are there to be found. Don't use this in production environments and be always prepared to restore your previous OS, as I am doing now.

Good luck to all people testing Windows Vista Beta 2.



Welcome new Microsoft MVP Mobile Devices

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 2-Jul-2006 17:11

Welcome to the new fellow Microsoft MVP Mobile Devices, Laura and Stephen (a.k.a. wormy).


Wormy is a new MVP Mobile Devices down under, based in Australia. He is the admin on wormwholecreations, a website dedicated to Windows Mobile, and home of some software support forums, including 1-Pass, XCPUScalar, Tweaks2k2, Battery Pack, IP Dashboard and more.

Laura is a moderator and contributor on Mobility Today.

If you don't know about the Microsoft MVP Awards program, here is a short description:

Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) are recognized, credible and accessible individuals with expertise in one or more Microsoft® products who actively participate in online and offline communities to share their knowledge and expertise with other Microsoft customers. Customers want an enriched pool of knowledge and real-life experience to tap for advice and feedback. MVPs are helping to satisfy this need by independently enabling customers in both online and offline technical communities. Customer feedback is vital to product development and R&D. The MVPs represent an important part of this feedback loop by providing another link for Microsoft to listen to the customer.


I am sorry if I missed any new Asian or European MVP Mobile Devices, but I only receive notifications on new USA and Oceania MVPs.

Congratulations again!



Driving in New Zealand

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 2-Jul-2006 12:12

We can't place all the blame on the police patrols, all the time. If you drive in New Zealand, do yourself a favour and visit the following pages. And then send these links to your friends. And ask them to send to their friends.

- Using indicators on roundabouts;
- The give way rules;
- Passing another car;
- Turning;
- Using lanes correctly (including on turn).

The following is an interesting and tricky one. It's one of the items in the last item in the list, but most people I see driving around stop the traffic completely, waiting when in fact both vehicles should turn: two vehicles turning into the same road at a laned intersection.

It's incredible how many people in New Zealand do not indicate, or use the wrong indicators when entering roundabouts (no, you don't need to indicate if you are going straight, only when you are getting out of the roundabout, just look at the first picture on the link). Or drive slowly on the highways, just to accelerate when the passing lanes come. Or don't respect give way signs or marks on the streets. Or simply drive in front of cars coming on the main road, without full stop where required.









freitasm's profile

Mauricio Freitas
Wellington
New Zealand


I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

I work for Intergen and I'm also the Geekzone admin. On Geekzone we publish news, reviews and articles on technology topics. The site also has some busy forums.

Subscribe now to my blog RSS feed or the Geekzone RSS feed.

If you want to contact me, please use this page or email me freitasm@geekzone.co.nz. Note this email is not for technical support. I don't give technical support. You can use our Geekzone Forums for community discussions on technical issues.

Here's is my full disclosure post.

If you'd like to help me keep Geekzone going, please use this Geekzone Amazon affiliate link when placing any orders on Amazon.



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