Software as spam: deceptive software updates

Bob Plankers, the Lonesysadmin posted yesterday about how Apple, Sun and Google have taken to using software updates as the vehicle for tricking customers into installing software they don’t want.  Bob suggests legal protection, which I assume was mostly exasperation with the situation.  The debate that followed Apple’s decision to take the low road has been all over the blogosphere for a few weeks now, but its interesting there are still lots of people discovering it – including me – I found Safari on a machine at home tonight when I checked.

The people backing Apple on this one are wrong.  Their argument is that people running systems should know enough to pay attention to the little details.  Of course, this runs contrary to the image that Apple portrays in its MAC vs PC ads where MAC operations are effortless and PC operations require unnecessary technical skill.. The idea of personal systems is not to make everybody a systems expert, but to provide as much automation to help people perform their work more efficiently.

The question of what administrative tasks users should be expected to do is particularly thorny where security issues are involved. People need to be aware that attacks of all types can and do occur, but that doesn’t mean that they should have to know what all the various risks are.  There needs to be some level of trust, as some of the bloggers have written about. Maybe Plankers is on to something.  Maybe there does need to be a way to help non-technical system users trust that the software they are downloading addresses a legitimate system need and does not contain spurious features and programs that are mostly unrelated to software that is being updated.

We need our infrastructures to work with a minimum amount of mischief and the industry wants a minimum amount of government meddling .  The fact is, most infrastructure technologies end up being regulated by governments at some point to ensure the common good.  Apple’s Safari stunt is just another example of a vendor spamming the commons and is a small step towards increased government regulations.

About the Author: Marc Farley