Imagine what you would do if you turned on your computer one day and saw the following message pop up on your screen:
"Hi! I'm about to install a piece of software that will track the websites you go to and send that information to online retailers who want to send you lots of spam. While I'm at it, the software I'm about to install will send you about a dozen pop-up windows every time you try to open your web browser and will make your computer run as slow as a snail. If I'm in a particularly bad mood, then I'll alter some files on your hard drive so that your machinewon't start up properly anymore.
Oh yes, one more thing: I'll also collect your credit card information every time you check out at an online store and send your credit card numbers and personal information back to my nefarious maker.
If you'd like me to install this software, please click Yes so that I can start. If for some reason you'd rather I didn't install this software, go ahead and click No, and I won't bother you again."
Now, if you saw a message like this, you'd click "No," right? Of course you would: if a piece of software as malicious as this one came right out and told you everything it was planning to do, there's no way you'd install it on your computer willingly. But what do you do if this piece of software wasn't polite enough to give you this kind of warning? What if this software installed itself automatically (and without your permission) just because you browsed to a particular website or downloaded a game that you like to play? I bet you'd call that annoying at best and downright dangerous at worst.
Read the rest of Hunter's book chapter on spyware.
This was first published in January 2006