Spyware or Slyware?

By Bill Machrone  |  Posted 2004-06-22 Print this article Print

Software that sneaks onto your machine may not always be spyware, but it's not very welcome either.

AOL caused a stir among users when it introduced AOL Instant Messengers most recent update, version 5.5. This version installed WildTangent, which most security programs identify as spyware, yet companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Gateway deliver it preinstalled on many of their machines. The WildTangent site (www.wildtangent.com) says that its Web Driver platform is merely an enabling device for high-quality online games.

If youre an AIM user, you probably agree to upgrades fairly automatically, as insurance against bugs, hacks, and future incompatibilities. But the initial release of version 5.5 didnt tell users it was going to install WildTangent, which users deplored. In apparent response, subsequent revisions do make this clearer. But questions remain: Is WildTangent evil or is it innocent fun? Are we too quick to label as spyware any software that ends up on our machines without our knowledge? The answers depend on your level of paranoia and how protective you are of what software gets loaded onto your PC.

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Bill Machrone is vice president of technology at Ziff Davis Publishing and editorial director of the Interactive Media and Development Group. He joined Ziff Davis in May 1983 as technical editor of PC Magazine, became editor-in-chief in September of that year, and held that position for the next eight years, while adding the titles of publisher and publishing director. During his tenure, Machrone created the tough, labs-based comparison reviews that propelled PC Magazine to the forefront of the industry and made it the seventh-largest magazine in the United States. He pioneered numerous other innovations that have become standards in computer journalism, such as Service and Reliability Surveys, free utility software, benchmark tests, Suitability to Task ratings, and price/performance charts. Machrone also founded PC Magazine Labs and created the online service PC MagNet, which later expanded into ZDNet. In 1991, when Machrone was appointed vice president of technology, he founded ZD Labs in Foster City, California. He also worked on the launch team for Corporate Computing magazine, was the founding editor of Yahoo! Internet Life, and is working on several other development projects in conventional publishing and electronic media. Machrone has been a columnist for PC Magazine since 1983 and became a columnist for PC Week in 1993.

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