Tech shorts for April 28, 2015: Web ads are indistinguishable from spyware, and innovation comes to web searching (finally!)
Web ads and spyware are now synonymous
There's a delightful new euphemism popping up all over tech news sites: "potentially unwanted programs," also known as "potentially unwanted applications," or PUAs. Many of these programs sneak onto your PC or device as part of some other download. Nearly all of them record your activities and report back to their creators -- usually ad networks that use the information to pitch their products and services to you, among other money-making purposes.
Some PUAs also replace the ads that appear on the websites you visit with their own ads. In an April 19, 2015, article, TechCrunch's John Biggs describes one such program, WeLikeTheWeb's WebSiteRecommendation plug-in for Firefox and Google Chrome browsers. A close examination of the program's code reveals that it's siphoning off the few pennies sites make when they refer their visitors to other sites -- usually by clicking an ad.
As Biggs points out, the online advertisers who promulgate this and other types of spyware are spending a ton of money lobbying Congress against prohibiting or otherwise regulating their nefarious operations. This kind of snooping and behind-the-scenes manipulation is ubiquitous on the web. Be very, very careful about the programs you download. Many of the vendors behind the programs are doing some nasty things behind your back -- and making bank vaults full of money as a result.
A new search technology debuts. Should Google be worried?
It's unthinkable: Google no longer the King of Search? Couldn't happen.
Until it does. I'm not saying the Memex search technology released as open source recently by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is going to put Google out of business anytime soon -- or ever. But Memex does offer something that has been missing in the web search industry for many years: innovation.
Forbes' Thomas Fox-Brewster writes in an April 17, 2015, article that Memex is used by law enforcement agencies around the world to track down criminals operating on the "dark web." Three organizations have created the TellFinder and DIG front ends for Memex-based searches: Uncharted Software, the University of Southern California, and Next Century Corp. Fox-Brewster describes several other Memex-related research projects, including ArrayFire, Diffeo, and Hyperion Gray.
Something tells me nobody in the Googleplex is losing any sleep over Memex. Yet.