This week, Natasha Staley, antivirus consultant for Sophos Anti-Virus, warns against ignoring a website's Terms and Conditions.
There is little dispute that email and the internet have resulted in something of a communications revolution.
Almost everything that was once done using the postal system or a phone can now be achieved via the wonders of the internet, including paying bills, keeping in touch with far-flung relatives and even implementing marketing campaigns.
The internet has made it far easier to contact a greater number of people. Sounds great in theory but, as recent events have proved, there is a downside to this revolutionary communication tool.
In this day and age it is hardly unusual to receive a greetings card via email. Many will ask you to follow a link in the email which will take you to a website where your e-card will be displayed.
Nothing unusual about that, but how about if you were prompted to run a web applet to view your greeting? And what if the applet displayed two lengthy end-user licence agreements? Would you be so desperate by now to read your card that you'd click straight past the agreements and let the code install anyway?
That is precisely what many computer users did last week when they received an email from FriendGreetings.com telling them they had a card waiting for them at its website.
However, users who were desperate to read their e-card may not have realised that they were also giving permission for an email greeting to be sent to all of the contacts in their Outlook address book.
Although not a virus as such, the FriendGreetings email certainly managed to make a nuisance of itself amongst the internet community by generating a sizeable amount of unwanted email. Indeed, the method it used to distribute itself is characteristic of many of the most prominent viruses to date.
It is of course the user's decision as to whether or not they want to allow software like this to run on their machine, but without reading the terms and conditions attached they could be in for a nasty surprise.
It seems safe to assume that in this case FriendGreetings.com was relying on the fact that many people don't bother to read the small print, especially when that small print is not only lengthy but comes in two parts.
The advantages to the people behind FriendGreetings.com of doing this are obvious: they received massive publicity for their website and encouraged many people to visit.
If antivirus software were to pick up on the applet, interesting legal questions could be raised by the owners of the website. It wasn't a virus, and users had given their permission (even if they hadn't bothered to read the small print) for the code to run.
Unfortunately the outlook is gloomy, and we can probably expect more companies to use similar tricks to get their name in front of users.
Companies will have to remember to educate their users to take responsibility for all code that they run and install on their computer if there is going to be any chance of preventing this from happening again.
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