Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Truth In Advertising

I listen to the radio all day at work and, like most people, I find commercials to be mostly annoying. They're rarely amusing anymore and they are often completely ridiculous. There is one thing that really gets me, though. Didn't we used to have such a thing as truth in advertising laws?
One commercial I hear often is from something called Clean PC Nation. It is a web-based anti-viral and computer optimization source. Being web-based, I assume it is at least national, so you may have heard the commercials as well. Part of the commercial mentions that such things as pop-ups and spam are "tell-tale signs of a virus". Huh? Speaking as an A+ certified IT Technician who deals with anti-viral and optimization situations all the time, this claim is not just misleading, it is a bald faced lie. The only things that pop-ups and spam are "tell-tale sign[s] of" are that you spend time on the internet and have an email address.
It is true that pop-ups and spam can be symptoms of a virus, but no self-respecting computer security specialist would go that route first based on those two criteria. Pop-ups and spam are so common a component of online activity, they are practically an integral component of the internet as it currently exists. Personally, I'd be more inclined to worry if you were not seeing pop-ups or spam.
Pop-ups might be indicative of a virus if they are behaving in an unusual manner. For example, if they will not close, if they take you to a location other than what they advertise (Though, why are you clicking on a pop-up in the first place? Don't reward that behavior!), if they are popping up when you do not have a web browser running. These are all possibly troubling behavior. If you have a good pop-up blocker (and for that matter, the one that comes built in to most browsers is usually just as good as or better than any after-market blocker) and are still seeing a high number of pop-ups (keeping in mind that no blocker is 100% reliable) then you might have a problem. Aside from possibilities like these, pop-ups are just pop-ups and they are coded into most websites out there.
Spam is a little more tricky because spam can contain a virus, but that is not the same thing as being a symptom of a virus. If spam is resulting from a virus, the person with the virus will probably not see the spam. Spam's usual connection to viral activity is that a virus takes over a computer (or parts of a computer) and uses it to send spam elsewhere. It is unlikely that a virus would advertise its presence by flooding the infected account with spam. Aside from this, the vast majority of people today use web-based email (I have several email addresses and everyone of them is web-based) and a virus on your computer will hardly ever have any effect on an email account that is actually located on a different computer, probably even in a different state. The virus might prevent you from getting to your web-based email account, but it is not very likely to spam that account.
One statement this commercial makes that actually is completely true and that not enough people realize is the fact that, even if you have anti-viral software on your computer, you are still at risk for a virus. Let me amplify that by pointing out that the risk exists no matter how good an anti-viral program you have is. A good anti-viral program decreases the risk (and safe behavior online decreases it even further) but nothing can remove it completely. The bad guys are putting out new code and trying new tricks constantly and it is just not possible for even the best defense to stay completely ahead of the game. You do the best you can and you don't take foolish risks.
I have not personally checked out Clean PC Nation and I do not make any claims as to their service. According to reviews I have seen, they do get good marks for the work they do. Their method of advertising, however, both offends and concerns me. The company behind this commercial knows perfectly well that their claims are false and also knows that the average computer consumer does not know this. That is offensive. What concerns me, though, is a simple question: If they will commit this kind of deception to get your business, how far will they go to keep or increase your business?

1 comment:

  1. If the our countries judges, lawyers, and politicians can do it, why can't software companies? It's only fair... ;)