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Are You Downloading Assaults on your Privacy?

by Jim Bray

Your computer's desktop should be your private space, but it may not be.

I look upon my desktop as my home: it's my castle and I don't appreciate it when my castle comes under assault from unwanted quarters. Before cyberspace, such attacks would typically come from door to door purveyors of special offers, but now you can add to the problem the newer trend toward annoying pop up ads that pop up even when you aren't actively surfing the Internet.

I accept banner ads as a necessary evil that helps Web sites pay their bills. I use them myself, though I hate to admit it (and don't be afraid to shop through OUR ads!). What makes them acceptable is that they leave the surfer, the consumer, in control: you can either click on them or ignore them. They work kind of like highway billboards, in that you see them beside the information superhighway, and you possibly notice their message, but you aren't beaten over the head with them.

Not any more. Now there's a type of online ad that actually forces you to take action.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been coming down to the home office in the morning, only to find up to ten "pop up" ads sitting on my computer screen, waiting hopefully for me to look at them, be impressed by what I see, and then click on them so I can take advantage of whatever bargain of the century they're promising.

And now I'm as mad as hell and want to warn you about it.

After ranting and raving, I took a look around my hard drive and discovered a new folder called "SaveNow" in my "Program Files" folders. Smelling a virtual rat, I looked inside and found the source of my new online angst.

According to the "ReadMe.txt" file in that folder, "SaveNow is a program that brings you relevant offers and tells you about great deals and similar sites when you surf the web. It is our strict policy to distribute SaveNow only to users who have accepted the SaveNow license agreement."

The second sentence was particularly interesting, since during my conscious moments I would never agree to such a thing.

The ReadMe goes on to say that SaveNow is a module "that comes with WhenUShop or other software that you download from the Internet. At that time, you accept a SaveNow license agreement as part of the download process you complete."

Nope. Never happened. I'd never heard of WhenUShop, though I do periodically download software from the Internet. Nothing major, usually just little utilities or the occasional virus fix. I can't for the life of me figure out what software I would have downloaded that inflicted this insidious assault on my privacy or I'd be raising the issue with that company.

Apparently, clicking the "Accept terms" button on the software I downloaded was all that was required. If I had actually read those terms I might have discovered what they were planning. But alas, I never read those boxes of legalese. Do you? They used to be pretty standard disclaimers about fair use and copyright and all that stuff - but now at least some of them appear to be licenses to commit virtual mugging.

This won't do.

There's nothing more annoying than to be working away in your private space, only to have an Internet Explorer window pop up with some insulting advertisement, phony prize offer, or whatever. You're forced to look at the ad if only to close it so it goes away from whence it came, and if you don't look at it or close it it'll stay there until the cows come home.

Fortunately, you can uninstall the SaveNow software the same way you uninstall any application, though that ReadMe file encourages you to leave it on so that you can "benefit from the occasional offers that it shows you."

It turns out that SaveNow comes from WhenUShop (, who make a nasty little utility that "makes your online shopping easier" by popping up beside your Browser window when you visit certain Web sites (for instance, Feel free to download it and forever lose your peace.

As for me, after uninstalling SaveNow I made a vow to never visit any of the advertisers who have thrust themselves on my computer.

They're welcome to rot.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006