Click Here February 2004: “Free” Services”

This is a continuation of a republishing of a series of articles I wrote titled “Click Here”. You can find them all under the Click Here Articles category in this blog.

Click Here
By Lee C. SonkoLast month I talked about some free internet services including Today I want to warn you that not all “free” services are good for you and your computer. There are all sorts of programs that literally push themselves upon you while you’re surfing the internet. For example, if you are trying to go to but mistype it, writing “” instead, you are taken to a web site that tries to sell you all sorts of things; it even tries to change your homepage! How rude!

Remember that the people at have nothing to do with the people at You can think of each web site as its own physical storefront. If you walk into a store at 100 Main Street, they might try to sell you junk that you don’t want. But the folks across the street at 102 Main Street might be highly reputable and pleasant too.

There are a lot of websites that try to get you to put “free” applications onto your computer. Before you allow such a thing, always think of the reputation of the website that you are getting the application from. When you allow one of these applications onto your computer, you are letting them take total control of your computer! Yes, that’s true. Every application on your computer has the power to delete all your files and rifle through your emails.

Here’s a real example of what I’ve seen happen to many people: A friend of mine, let’s call her Jane, heard about a cute little program called “WeatherBug”. It’s this cute little free program that sits in the corner of her desktop giving her weather forecasts all day while she’s at the office. Well, if she had read the (20 page) license agreement (and spoke legalese), she’d have realized that WeatherBug is what’s called a “trickler”. While it’s running, it downloads… in a slow trickle… more programs onto her computer! After a few weeks, Jane noticed that her computer was running a lot slower. Applications took longer to start and sometimes the computer would freeze up for a few seconds at a time. Sometimes when she went to a website, an advertisement for a competing company would pop up on her screen. Two websites take longer to load than just one!

The worst thing is that she couldn’t figure out why all this was happening. After all, she only downloaded one program. When I finally took a look at the computer, I found about five “mystery” programs running unseen in the background. Some of these programs were watching what websites she was going to, some were popping up advertisements, and some were… well, we honestly don’t know what some of them were doing!

Protect yourself from all this unpleasantness takes a little effort but it’s worth it.

– First, if a website asks to download or install something onto your computer when you aren’t expecting it, you should always say “no”, even if the website asks 50 times (that is one nasty tactic that they sometimes use).
– Second, you should run a good virus protection program. Norton Internet Security, AVG Antivirus, and McAfee Virusscan all work; there are many antivirus applications out there. Keep it updated every week.
– Third, you should run an anti-spyware application every now and then. Two good anti-spyware programs are “Spybot Search and Destroy” and Ad-Aware.

You have to use the anti-spyware programs carefully because they can disable some applications that you might want. For example, Kazaa is a popular “free” advertiser supported application. If you tell Spybot to disable the ads in Kazaa, then Kazaa won’t work any more.

Of course, there are thousands and thousands of great free applications on the internet. I use them all the time. If you’re not sure if an application is bad, ask a knowledgeable friend; it’ll make for good conversation! Before I install an application that I’m not sure about, I usually go to Google and type the name of the application and the word “spyware” into the search engine. For Kazaa, I’d type “kazaa spyware”. I then read-up on what people are saying.

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