If you've ever been asked to fix someone's computer, you've experienced the horror of finding out that the source of their problem is the free cosmetic add-ons that they've downloaded. Screen savers. Cursors. Desktop weather programs.
The biggest problem isn't just that these things are bad news, because the problems they cause can be fixed. It's that the people who download them are of a very specific personality type that can't. One in which no matter what you tell them, they will ignore it the second you leave and redownload everything you just painstakingly uninstalled. Spammers know this, and it's why this form of malicious bullshit will most likely never die.
You're crazy -- nothing bad can come of unicorns.
It's like adults, knowing that kids love stickers, giving them away knowing that the kids will put them all over their folders and lockers. But unbeknownst to anyone else, the stickers are actually miniature stun guns. Once enough area has been covered, the adults remotely detonate them, knocking entire classes unconscious. The police come in and recognize the stickers for what they are and remove them all, warning, "Don't accept any more free stickers. That's what was hurting you." But as soon as the cops leave, they do it all over again, thinking, "Well, these won't hurt us. It'll be different this time."
"Now if you don't mind, I need to go stand in that puddle of water."
Just like every other entry in this list, it wasn't always like that. Believe it or not, there was a point in time where entire websites thrived and grew based solely around the service of offering free Windows themes, no strings attached. They made their money by selling on-site ad space, and the world walked hand in hand with advertisers in a blissful symmetry unlike any the world had ever known.
And then spammers showed up and said, "Hey, is anyone gonna fuck that? Because if not, we're gonna go ahead and lube up."
But they didn't lube up. They just stuck it right in and shamelessly sodomized the entire industry right there in public until, now, every free customization download we find smells like their sweaty, floppy balls.
"Yeah. Yeah, it does. You're welcome."
None of us are naive enough to think that advertising in any medium is totally honest and without a fair amount of bullshit. We accept that because we're smart enough to pick out the exaggerations and boil down a commercial to its core. We allow it in the same way that the FDA allows a certain amount of rat shit to be in our hotdogs. In small enough quantities, it's actually pretty safe. In large enough quantities, we can pick it out or avoid it altogether. But the basics of a reasonable ad are always there: "We made this motherfucker. Give us money."
Spam advertisements are all rat shit. The problem is that even though we know to stay away from those, they're tainting everything else. When reputable websites (we'll take Weather.com, for example) sign up for an advertising network, they don't have a lot of say over what actually gets advertised. Yes, they can report and remove malicious ads, but there's not a lot they can do about blatantly lying bullshit like this:
Holy shit! You mean to tell me that two women from my town of 3,000 people discovered the secret of aging? That's incredible! Please tell me more so I can support these local women! I'll do that right after I get a free credit score check that only requires me to enter my credit card number. You know ... for "verification" purposes.
The point isn't about debunking shady ads. Most of us can do that. The point is that after a while, we can spot these things on sight, instinctively knowing to not click on them. And sometimes legitimate ads get caught in the crossfire. You can't tell me that many of you saw this thing on TV and didn't automatically assume it was a scam:
I was so sure of it, I banned my kids from even visiting the site. In fact, I didn't realize it was a legitimate game until doing research for this very article. And that's where we are now -- so conditioned to the idea that clicking a banner ad will damn us into Popup Hell that we actively tune them out. We're so afraid of hard drive vandalism that we can't get any legitimate use out of honest ads promoting real products because it's safer to assume that they're pipe bombs.
On TV, even if the ad is laced with misleading information (no, Axe Body Spray probably won't lead to instant female-on-male street rape), at least we know that the product is real. Toyota isn't selling you a cardboard car. If you order one of those stupid robe/blanket things, they're going to deliver that retarded sex-repellent monstrosity to your house. The few ads that do reek of scam are the late night commercials (Enzyte, bullshit diet scams, one-year online colleges), and at least you know when they're coming. You can separate them from the legitimate products. On the Net, you just have to assume that everything you see is out to screw you, the only exceptions being brands that you already know.
And here's the saddest part: There's nothing we can do about it. The second we change up our marketing strategy, the spammers will find a way to exploit it. Luckily for us, there's still the old adage that the strongest advertisement in the world is word of mouth. So just feel lucky that PUSSY FUKC FOR S=XY WIFE INTRACIAL ACTOIN CHEAP ROLAX!!!!!!
For more Cheese, check out Having Fun With 419 Scammers and 5 Wacky Internet Pranks That Can Get You Jail Time.