Article, August 2005
Book Excerpt: Five More Computer Privacy Annoyances
Tired of annoying pop-ups and fretting over junk mail?
Here are fixes for another five of your computer privacy annoyances
by Dan Tynan, author of Computer Privacy Annoyances (O’Reilly Press)
Pick Your Mail
THE ANNOYANCE: I don’t want to stop all mail advertisements. I’m in the market for a retirement home, so I want to receive any offers related to retirement communities and resorts. How do I attract the mail I want without getting buried by stuff I detest?
THE FIX: Laser-like precision in this realm isn't likely. Still, you may be able to winnow a bit by using Junkbuster’s handy Declarations Form (http://www.junkbusters.com/jdu.html). This form lets you state exactly what kinds of solicitations you will or won’t accept, and from what kinds of companies (charities, magazines, financial services, etc.). You can then send the declaration to direct mailers, post it on your Web site, or ask Junkbusters to send the form to you. Marketers may ignore your request, but at least you’ve tried.
Rewrite Netscape’s History
THE ANNOYANCE: I’ve cleared my history in Netscape Navigator, but the names of some web sites still show up when I click the down arrow in the address bar.
THE FIX: You’ve discovered one of the chinks in Netscape 7.x’s armor. Unlike IE, Navigator doesn’t automatically clear out the names of web sites you’ve typed into the address bar. To wipe these out, go into Edit*Preferences*History and click the Clear Location Bar button. (This problem is solved in the Netscape 8.0 and you ought to upgrade.)
Shoot the Messenger
THE ANNOYANCE: The other day a message popped up over my Windows system tray asking “Want sex?” (Sure I do, but I prefer to have mine with humans, not computers.) I wasn’t surfing the Web and haven’t downloaded anything to my hard disk. What the heck happened?
THE FIX: You’ve been had by a spammer exploiting a flaw (or, if you like, a feature) in Windows Messenger Service. Though easily confused with MSN Messenger, Microsoft’s online chat software, Windows Messenger Service was designed to let network administrators communicate with folks over their corporate networks. These days, it’s used by a handful of noxious spammers to spread ads for porn sites and other charming services.
Fortunately the fix is easy. Simply download and install Gibson Research’s free Shoot The Messenger applet at http://www.grc.com/stm/shootthemessenger.htm. Click the Disable Messenger button, and then Exit. Simplicity itself. Or, better yet, download Windows XP Service Pack 2, which turns WMS off by default.
Enquiring Minds Don’t Really Want to Know
THE ANNOYANCE: I received a message from a web site claiming that other people have made inquiries about me. But to get more information, they want $25. Should I pay up to find out what people are saying about me?
THE FIX: Not unless you want the word “sucker” tattooed on your forehead. This is an old scam that comes from a variety of domains, such as http://www.word-of-mouth.org and http://www.shareyourexperiences.com . (See the Snopes Urban Legends page at http://www.snopes.com/computer/internet/wordofmouth.asp for more details.) Even if someone was investigating you (doubtful), all these sites do is let you contact them anonymously via email. That’s hardly worth 25 bucks.
Thanks for Not Sharing
THE ANNOYANCE: I don’t mind my kids roaming the Net, but I’m afraid they’ll tell some stranger where we live or start sharing my credit card information in a chat room.
THE FIX: Use your firewall’s privacy protection feature, if it has one, to prevent your kids from spilling specific information over the net—like your home address, phone number, and so on. For example, to do this with ZoneAlarm 5 Security Suite, launch the ZoneAlarm control panel (Start*All Programs*Zone Labs*Zone Labs Security), and select ID Lock in the left-hand area of the panel.
On the Main tab move the slider bar to High to prevent any sensitive information from leaking out. Then select the myVault tab, click Add, fill in the description field, then type the information you want to keep secure. Put a checkmark in the boxes next to IM, Web, and Email to secure all outbound communications, then click OK.
If you want some sites to have access to this information (like Amazon.com), click the Trusted Sites tab, then Add, and type the URL of the sites you trust with your personal information.
Copyright © 2005 by Dan Tynan and O’Reilly Press. Reproduced with permission. Check a sample chapter on Orielly.com at http://snipurl.com/privacyannoy and find it at Amazon at http://snipurl.com/privacy_annoy. Article reproduction coordinated by Steve Bass, PC World Contributing Editor and author of PC Annoyances Second Edition. Read a sample chapter at http://snurl.com/sample_annoyed2. It’s available on Amazon at http://snurl.com/annoyed2. Visit Annoyance Central at: http://snipurl.com/AnnoyCentralClick here to return to top