SAN MATEO (03/27/2000) - Last week, I reported that a free utility had become available to remove all traces of the Aureate Trojan horse from your PC. This utility -- created by Steve Gibson -- is known as OptOut. Details are at grc.com/optout.htm.
The problem OptOut corrects is the flotsam and jetsam created by Aureate Media (Aureate recently changed its name to Radiate; its Web site is www.radiate.com.)Aureate software has been incorporated into more than 100 free, downloadable applications. The Trojan horse is installed with the downloadable application.
An Aureate logo is eventually displayed, and the user is asked to give personal information, such as age, ZIP code, household income, and company size. If the user clicks "OK," this information is sent to a Radiate server. The Trojan horse then downloads ads targeted to that demographic.
Here are the problems.
* Even if the user clicks "cancel," the Aureate software reports on the usage of the host software and downloads new ads via the Internet every time the user connects.
* Gibson says the Aureate software does not notify the user that it will upload and download information using bandwidth in the background. Radiate says this should be stated in the fine print of the host's license agreement. But Gibson says the hosts he's checked don't do that.
* Radiate used to routinely instruct developers not to uninstall the Aureate software if the host's uninstall routine is run. The Aureate daemon software would then continue to upload and download content -- every time the user made an Internet connection -- indefinitely.
For all these reasons, I categorize this as a Trojan horse, which consumes bandwidth without the user's full knowledge.
The brouhaha that has arisen around Aureate is having a few results: The software Aureate has provided to developers since Nov. 1, 1999, ceases to upload and download data 30 days after the host software was last used. A new version will also uninstall Aureate files.
Another way we're making a difference: Radiate announced its own removal utility to compete with Gibson's. It's at www.radiate.com/privacy/remover.html.
I prefer Gibson's, which cleans up "badware" other than Aureate, but the choice is yours.
I interviewed Radiate executives, including Scott Loughmiller, vice president of technology, and Jeff Ready, vice president of marketing. Here's Radiate's point of view.
Ready believes there is an unfair double standard. Communication in the physical world is considered fair if it is "opt out," he says. But in cyberspace, only "opt in" communication is considered acceptable.
For example, it's legal to send physical bulk mail to anyone, unless they put themselves on an "exclude" list (www.thedma.com/consumers/privacy.html). But the computer industry is racked with controversy over the use of private information, unsolicited spam relay, and so forth.
In my view, there's a crucial difference between the physical world and the e-world. In the physical world, it costs money to send batches of solicitations. This cost keeps the volume down to a manageable level.
In cyberspace, however, our industry has set up a system where most consumers pay hundreds of dollars per year for Internet access, but pay nothing for each Internet packet or piece of mail they send. The potential for us to be overwhelmed by people sending unlimited communications into and out of our PCs -- especially when we don't know it's happening -- is a real danger.
Ready equated what Radiate does to InfoWorld's subscription form. Those who want to receive InfoWorld free of charge must describe the types of products they buy and use (www.iwsubscribe.com/magazine/subscribe.asp). I don't find this comparison meaningful. InfoWorld is totally "opt in." Only those who want the magazine fill in the form. By contrast, Aureate software uses a person's bandwidth without them fully knowing it.
There's no problem with free "trialware" that just displays a set of ad files until the user pays up. But Radiate's ad system won't work unless it uses your Internet connection to inform advertisers how many times you used the host software and what ads you saw.
Send me your view, using "Radiate" as the subject of your e-mail.
Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows 2000 Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. He regrets he cannot answer individual questions.