Pew Says Spyware Stinks

    July 7, 2005

The Pew Internet and American Life project released a study today that says most U.S. Internet users learned about spyware and adware the hard way. They’ve had their computers screwed, blued and tattooed by annoying bits of software that take over your browser, eat up memory, cause your computer to crash and a whole host of other problems.

On the upside, the study also says most people learned from mistakes forced on them by various forms of garbage trying to edge their way into computers. According to the report by Susannah Fox, 91% of Internet users have changed their online habits to avoid the hassles of electronic invaders.

The report said that 81% of Internet users don’t open email attachments unless they know their good. 46% quit visiting questionable website for fear of unwanted injections, 25% quit fooling with P2P downloads for fear of downloading more than they bargained for (not SCOTUS decisions), and 18% said they’ve switched browsers (what no IE?).

The reason for all these changes is about 68% or 93 million users of the Internet have been forced to do the spyware nasty against their will in one form or another and 60% of that 93 million didn’t know where the problems originated. 25% of Internet users have had new programs show up they didn’t install and new icons showing up out of nowhere. 18% have had their homepage changed without their knowledge.

“These survey results show that as Internet users gain experience with spyware and adware, they are more likely to say they are changing their behavior. But what is more alarming is the larger universe of people who have struggled with mysterious computer problems, but have no idea why. Internet users are increasingly frustrated and frightened that they are not in charge of their Internet experience.”

The sample for the telephone survey was 1366 Internet users and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points.

This just reiterates several problems. Unfortunately, with most activities, there are always hassles. You can break a leg playing football, you can spend too much money on baseball cards, and you can get the wrong thing at the drug store. In most cases, while people are out to make money, they generally are not out to intentionally cause you harm.

Many of the creators of the spyware and viruses are. They want to know things about out or create problems. In many cases, it’s not to harm the individual; it’s a case of oneupsmanship. It seems there are more malevolent entities online than there is walking through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. It costs individuals time and money to get the repairs done, it cost individuals and companies money for the security software and such. Unfortunately, the study showed that even when users are savvy and take all the precautions, they still won’t be safe.

As e-commerce continues to grow, reliable, safe networks for transferring information, sometimes important information like credit card numbers can be crucial. Spyware and the like can be used to swipe that info so consumers and all users of the Internet must be cautious. There are a number of excellent programs out there in case you don’t know. I personally have had success with both AdAware and Spybot S&D. There are others out there. Those two have free versions so please check them out if you haven’t before. You may be surprised what’s hiding in your hard drive.

John Stith is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.