Free 300x 01Free is a Four Letter Word

Have you ever noticed that everything on the Internet is free? It must be true — I see it all the time.

There's free downloads, screen-savers, wallpaper, layouts, smiles, avatars, and games. There's so much free stuff I decided to Google free just to add it all up.

According to Google, my search for Free yielded 2 billion 50 million hits in only .04 seconds. Yikes! I can have free stuff until the end of time.

Let's see, there's free money and free cell phones. There's free books and free address labels. There's free MP3s and free kids? Yup, that's what it says.

Everywhere you look, there's something for nothing and it's all free until you find out what free costs you.

A little while back, I answered a call from a very frantic parent of three high school-aged children. I didn't really understand what their PC problem was, but it was very clear I needed to get there yesterday.

When I arrived, I found the family PC completely unplugged from the wall. Before I could plug it in to find the problem, the kids were ushered out of the room. I started up the PC feeling a little awkward under Dad's menacing glare.

It didn't take long to find the problem. Before Windows could finish starting up, full-screen windows of adult content began opening one after another.

Squinting and turning away as if an evil laser beam were about to melt my eyes, I reached down and killed the power.

Back at my workshop, I tracked the infection to a free 3D screensaver. The kids answered an ad on the back of a candy bar and gave away their e-mail address in exchange of the freebie.

Over the course of about three months, their e-mail address landed on several different advertising Web servers until it was picked up by the server responsible for the infection. It's not unlike subscribing to a publication and then finding magazine ads in your mailbox.

These kids didn't knowingly do anything wrong and neither did their parents. If one must assign blame, then blame human behavior and the word Free.

Advertisers use the word Free because it works. The technique reminds me of the Kevin Costner film where he builds a baseball field in the middle of nowhere, only on the Internet the field is a word. If you say it's free, they'll come.

Installing PC security software will block most of the Internet's bad content, but software alone cannot fix a careless user. It's important to understand that Internet freebies come at a price and one needs to know that price before clicking Download.

The price may be pop-up windows or maybe new spam in your inbox. The price may be a toolbar that delivers ads to your browser or a program that run in the background without your knowledge. In extreme cases, the price may be sites with evil laser beams that melt your eyes.

Anyway you count it — Free is a four-letter word.

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Steve Wittmann - Owner
Vivid Vision Imaging

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