It's amazing how much shit people will put up with, as long as you give it to them slowly. Like the way nobody notices gas prices going up, as long as it's done a nickel at a time.
But I can't think of a more dramatic example than the way spammers have ruined huge chunks of the Internet, and the way we kind of just let them. You can't get from Point A to Point B on the Web without swimming through a sludge of spyware, malware and viruses. It dictates our entire behavior online, and we've kind of just gotten used to it. I think this is amazing, considering that if even a tenth as much bullshit existed in real life, we'd be demanding military intervention.
Step back for a moment and just think about how spamming dickheads have ruined ...
Man, you know what would be awesome? If they made a little strip of useful icons and features that we could attach to our browsers. Something unintrusive that would eliminate the need to have a separate window open every time we needed to search for pictures of Christina Hendricks' cleavage. And another when we need to post those pictures on Facebook. Maybe it could give us a way to rate and share that cleavage so that we could scientifically catalog it for further study.
Oh, wait, they have those! In fact, they've been around almost as long as Web browsers themselves. The problem is that we don't think of them as helpful tools to make browsing easier. We see them as symptoms of a disease, the number of which tells us exactly how long we'll be spending unfucking our mom's computer because she won't stop downloading goddamn screensavers.
In another article, I talked about how toolbars have become synonymous with the word "virus" because they are so commonly associated with malware, spyware and hijackers. Spammers discovered years ago that if they designed a toolbar that offered some legitimately helpful features, they could slip in some bullshit malicious code, and most people wouldn't know where the resulting vomit was coming from. Over time, of course, we figured out what was going on, and the rule of thumb became "Do not install toolbars under any circumstance."
They're just these mindless little promotional giveaways, yet I've spent days trying to undo the damage all their hidden malicious code unleashed. It'd be like if a politician handed us an ink pen with his campaign logo on the side, and as soon as we accepted the freebie, it fused itself to our fingers and forced us to write his slogans all over ourselves. Then, on voting day, it physically pulled us into the booth and forced us to vote for him. It's a level of diabolical malice normally reserved for dark wizards. But on the Internet? The average grandma can't surf for 48 hours without getting cursed by some equivalent asshole.
"Rise, my minions, and drink of the blood that gives you life!"
And the harder we try to avoid it, the more devious they get. Spammers pay legitimate programs to include their toolbar as a package deal. Or worse, trusted companies would wrap clean programs in their own installer, which itself was bundled with toolbars, Trojans and homepage hijackers. In order to ensure that you'd install it, they'd hide a check box -- already checked for your convenience -- in a sea of "Terms and Agreements" that gives them permission to shit directly into your hard drive unless you specifically unchecked that box. And once again, we had to modify the way we installed programs, carefully looking for that catch and manually unchecking each box before hitting the "Next" button.
Once we were used to that, they changed up the wording, knowing that we had become conditioned to performing the steps: 1) Uncheck toolbar boxes. 2) Click "Accept." 3) Install the new program, free of said toolbars. Check out the deceptive bullshit they came up with, paying special attention to the last lines of the instructions:
If you don't see it, don't feel bad -- many people don't. What they're saying is that if you click "Decline" (an action that traditionally cancels the installation of the whole program), they will continue with the program's regular installation without installing the toolbar. If you click "I Accept," no matter what you've unchecked above, the toolbar is still installed along with the program. They figured out our "don't install" click patterns, and rearranged the buttons to trick us into agreeing.
Can you imagine how we would jump down the throat of any real-world business that tried that shit? Imagine ordering your lunch at McDonald's, but when they got to the "fries" question, they phrased it as, "Don't you not want to not have fries with that?" Then, no matter how you answered that ridiculous triple negative, they told you, "By pulling forward to the next window, you are agreeing to buy fries" and shoved them into your car anyway, claiming, "No, you said you wanted them, so now you have to pay for them. No take-backs!" Also, the fries are poison.
And it's because of dishonest, misleading bullshit like this that we look at even reputable programs with distrust. Even the ones that aren't spam are viewed as such because they're using the same "bundle this with other software" approach that has been completely stripped of trust and legitimacy by the advertising equivalent of kidnappers.
Yeah, right! "Google?" If you're going to make up words, at least make them sound believable.
Back in ancient times when "Instant Access Internet CD Roms" littered your desk and your pager was blowin' up from some sweet Tenderoni all up on your tip, we had a simple sales mechanic that served us pretty damn well. Software makers would release their program for free, and if you liked it, you could buy it. Sometimes, it came in the form of freeware that limited functionality until you paid. Other times, the program was on a timed trial, shutting down after so many uses or days and starting back up when you paid for a license. We still have that now, but the difference is that back then (a whole 15 years ago), we could click the download link without having to put in an hour's worth of research to make sure it wasn't about to ad-fuck our computer into a coma.
"OK, just five or six more hours, and the fungal cultures should give us more info on the distributor."
Up until the early 2000s, I don't remember paying for a single program -- and no, I'm not talking about pirating that shit. Everything on my computer from antivirus to word processing to photo editing was all freeware or trial-based. But do me a favor real quick: Go on Google, search for a random malware cleaner and install one you've never heard of.
Wait, don't actually do that. For your computer, that's the equivalent of having an unprotected dick fight with General Herpes Wartcock. See, just like the toolbar example, spammers (being the soulless pig fuckers that they are) realized that people like free things. So they'd either buy out small time programs that were already gaining popularity, or they'd mimic successful programs and games like Angry Birds and plant their blatantly destructive "aggressive advertising" bombs within those.
"No, it's the same thing, man. Look how pissed off he is."
And we just kind of roll with it now, like, "Hey, it's free, of course it will give your computer cancer." Really? When is the last time you went to the grocery store and refused a free sample of something because you were afraid it might cause your limbs to stop working? Or maybe you did try it, but as soon as you went back to shopping, you were stopped every couple of seconds by a representative of every product you walked past? Following you home, screaming the name of their product in your face while you tried to drive?
Seriously, why don't people go to jail for this? It has ruined trust to the point that many of us simply avoid free samples at all costs. Until these things have been through a round of customer reviews, been scanned by anti-malware and antivirus programs, been recommended by reputable computer geeks and dragged through miles of various poking and prodding tests, our default state is to assume they're poison. And that doesn't bode well for the actual legitimate small time programmers who are just trying to get their name out there. Or for us as consumers, who would very much like to give those guys a chance ... and, yes, to get some free shit.
"I'm not opening that, Mom. I know you filled it with bees."