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Slimy But Legal

By June Campbell

The Internet's ticking me off these days. I'm weary of the sleazy, but legal activities that detract from our enjoyment and productivity while we're online.

Sure, there's plenty of illegal activity happening on the Internet. However, most of this stuff is easy to avoid if you develop a degree of cyber-smarts. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. I really won't make $20,000 a month stuffing envelopes. I also understand that the pitiful, disenfranchised African price isn't being totally honest when he sent me that heartfelt request for a money transfer.

It's the sleazy, but legal stuff that bugs me. Unlike the above-mentioned scams, these annoyances are difficult to avoid.

The Jailhouse Site

These web sites hold you captive by seemingly disabling your browser's Back Button. Suppose you're at a page with an array of links to various sites you hope to visit. You are happily clicking through to the sites, then using your Back Button to return to the link page when you're ready. Suddenly, when you hit the Back Button, it doesn't work. Instead, the current page refreshes and you cannot return to the original site.

If you're using a recent version of IE, there is good news. Click on the little arrow to the immediate right of the Back Button, and you will get a menu of recently visited sites. Choose the one you want and you escape the Jailhouse. If your browser doesn't have this handy function, you will have to manuallyenter the URL in your browser address field. If you haven't memorized the URL, you'll waste time running a search or accessing your browser's history.

But what if you can't see the Back Button? Some webmasters code the link so that the page opens in a new window in which the Back Button is not visible. In this case, you can hunt through your browser's menus looking for the toolbar function. In IE, the Standard Toolbar item in the View menu toggles your Back Button on and off. Ensure there is a check mark beside that item, and voila! Your Back Button returns.

Site Nasty

These sites display popup window after popup window after popup window. As fast as you click on the little x to shut the window, another popup (or pop under) appears in its place. It's like trying to rid your lawn of dandelions. Kill one and ten come to the funeral. Anyway, back to the popups. Site Nasty's popups can be so persistent and so intrusive that your computer will crash. If it doesn't, rebooting your machine might be the only escape from these windows if you're unlucky enough to land at Site Nasty.

One solution, although not a perfect one, is to install software that prevents popup windows from displaying. For information about specific software applications that keep the popups away, visit Tucows web site (no affil) and run a search for "popup blockers". (www.tucoows.com)

Site Bait & Switch

You click on a link to a seemingly benign web site, and Eureka! You've got Po~n! It's likely that someone allowed a domain name to lapse, or put it up for sale. Another person bought the domain name and used it to publish a po~n site. Since the domain sounds innocent, you have no clue that you're going to land on po~n when you click through to it. Worse, any web sites that had linked to the original site do not know what has happened, and therefore have not removed the links. I learned this the hard way when a site visitor blasted me for linking to po~n from my family-friendly web site.

I am not aware of a solution to Site Bait & Switch. However, it is important to realize that accessing a po~n site is not always intentional. (There's a message here for spouses, parents and employers.)

Site Sneaky EULA

These are the sites that annoy me above all else. Site Sneaky

EULA tricks you into agreeing to something you wouldn't agree to if you understood the implications. You download and install some (often free) software, music or other media. During the installation, you are shown an End User Legal Agreement (EULA). You are asked to read a long legal agreement, then indicate you agree to the terms. Almost every software publisher asks you to agree to a EULA, so that in itself is not the problem. At Site Sneaky EULA, the publisher has buried some offensive little gem within the legalese.

One of the more blatant examples occurred in October, 2002, when a marketing company called Permissioned Media sent out emails telling the recipients they they had received an ecard from a friend. When the recipient clicked on the link to view their ecard, they were taken to a web site where they were told they would need to download and install a plugin to view their ecard. During installation, the recipient was asked to agree to a EULA. Little did they know that they were agreeing to let Permissioned Media raid their MS Outlook address book and send messages to everyone found there. Read more about this: www.europe.f-secure.com/v-descs/friendgr.shtml

The solution to Site Sneaky EULA lies in being discriminating around what we download and install, and being on the watch for trickery. Boring as they are, its wise to browse through EULAs before indicating approval.

Site Big Broth

er

Similar to Site Tricky Eula, this site installs tracking technology on your computer, allowing the site owners to track your surfing habits. Typically, the information gleaned is used or sold for marketing purposes. Annoying at this is, there is a relatively effective solution. Software applications like Ad-Aware (no affil) allow you to monitor and remove the privacy-invading technologies. The first time you run Ad-Aware, you'll be shocked at the number of tracking technologies installed on your machine without your knowledge.

I wonder what they'll think of next to make the Internet less helpful and more annoying.

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