Readers' Forum - October 2004

by Rob Zorn
from the October 2004 Newsletter

If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send me an e-mail with the word "Forum" in the subject line. I'll try and answer your question by return e-mail, and will also post the answer here for the benefit of others who may have a similar question or problem. By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free. Please also note that questions and answers may turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (www.actrix.co.nz).

Barbara writes: Hi There Rob, When looking at a cursor fun web site, they ask me to fill out a survey before allowing me to download. Are these surveys safe? They want name, email address etc, do you know if its ok to do this please. Again my thanks for your help, Regards, Barbara.

Hi Barbara, This is a good question, and one that touches on issues beyond just the survey. How safe it is to fill out an online form all depends on who is gathering the information and what they are going to do with it. If you know nothing about who will receive the information, then there is no guarantee that they won't share or sell your information, especially your e-mail address. Look for any privacy statement that might promise not to give away or sell your details, but even then, how much can you even trust such a statement? The Internet is one of the easiest places in which to lie and get away with it. I guess it depends on how badly you want these enhanced cursors as to what risks you want to take.

However, I have even greater concerns about your downloading the cursors themselves, especially if they're free. I don't know which ones you're referring to, but enhanced cursor downloads in the past have been known to contain spyware that will track your movements online and send that data back to someone else. Most free programs for download contain this sort of thing. This is the way the provider makes money - by gathering data and selling it to others.

If you do decide to download, then you will probably be asked to read and agree to a user license as part of the install process. If so, I'd almost be willing to bet my firstborn that there'll be some legal gobbledegook in there about giving them the right to track your data. It may be cunningly worded so that you'd have to read it carefully to spot it, but that's the way these guys operate. Of course, you may not be asked to agree to a user license agreement, and spyware might be added anyway.

I guess this all adds up to me advising you not to download the free cursor program. If you want to download something funky like this, look for a reputable company that provides some sort of privacy guarantee that you trust. I'm just not sure where you'd find one. When it comes to the Internet, you should definitely look a gift-horse in the mouth!

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Pat writes: Hello Rob, I have just received a virus warning, telling me to send it on to everyone in my address book, about a virus disguising itself as a story on a 9-11 survivor. Do you know if this is genuine, or should I just not go on-line that day?

Hi Pat, I haven't heard of this particular one. However, there are a million such hoaxes. By fooling people into sending the warning on to everyone in their address book, the hoax writers are able to imitate the effects of a virus which also send themselves out to everyone in address books. The warning about the virus becomes the virus. Quite a laugh if you're demented, I suppose. Of course these hoaxes aren't as serious as real viruses as they don't harm your system, but they're a pain in the neck and just add to mail-server loads around the world. 

A good site to check regarding viruses (if you're unsure of veracity) is www.vmyths.com. See especially: How to Spot a Virus Hoax at http://vmyths.com/resource.cfm?id=19&page=1.