Understanding Computers
 
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  Searching for Mr. Google Bar
 
 
   
 
In 1977, Diane Keaton starred in a movie called Looking For Mr. Goodbar. In the movie, described by one critic as "a not-too-subtle cautionary tale", Ms Keaton comes to a bad end at the hands of stranger. This column is a not-subtle-at-all cautionary tale about using "free" toolbars.
The ISP giant AOL originated the idea of a time saving toolbar with the invention of the keyword search. Type a keyword into the AOL search bar and rather than having to wade through a morass of possibly useful websites, you will be whisked instantly to a single, relevant site. The Google search engine also supports this approach on their website with the "I'm feeling lucky" button. This sure sounds like a good thing, given that not even the nerdiest nerd has the time to check out every website that most searches discover.
for big bucks. AOL customers aren't being directed to a website selected by some complicated algorithm that took a thousand nerd-years to develop, they're being sent to the highest bidder. Now you know how they can afford to give away all those CDs. Visit www.nomoreaolcds.com to see just how many they give away.
Like most really profitable ideas, someone finally got around to stealing the keyword. But they had a big problem. Who would want to buy keywords if no one has a toolbar that finds them. The solution was deceptively simple. Get people to download the toolbars. The creators of these copycat toolbars had one wickedly original idea, the new toolbars gave them the perfect opportunity to gather information about the browsing habits of their users. In plain nerd-speak, these toolbars are spyware.
Why would anyone consent to having such a useless toolbar added to their web browser? Many promise what AOL has always promised, easier searches. Others actually promise to pay a small amount of cash every time they are used. Some have given up all pretence of usefulness and concentrate on tricking the unwary user into installing them. You can see copies of marketing offers from a company called NetDirectWords by clicking:
NetDirectWords Letter to Potential Clients
NetDirectWords Letter to Investors
The letters are in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) If you need it, you can download Acrobat Reader from Adobe

A tip of the hat to Sandra Gies at the Red Deer Lodge in Madawaska for forwarding the letters.

You can remove most toolbars, and other spyware with Spybot Search and Destroy or Ad Aware. Both are freeware, both detect and remove spyware. The professional version of Ad Aware also blocks known spyware from getting on the system in the first place.
Barring all else, the best thing you can do is learn the lesson that Diane Keaton's character seems to have missed: Just because someone is attractive and makes a lot of great promises doesn't mean you should invite them into your home, or onto your computer.
 
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