Face it: You’ve got spyware

The Pew Internet Project released a report Wednesday showing that 91 percent of Americans have changed the way they use the Internet because of fears of spyware.

Spyware, and its more benign cousin adware, is software installed on your computer via downloads, email attachments, and even visiting Web sites. While adware tracks your Internet habits to better market ads and products to your tastes, spyware also compiles personal information and relays it to the program's owner. Unsurprisingly, spyware is a key tool for identity thieves.

The Pew report cites an earlier study that found these programs are more pervasive than anyone expected, especially individual computer users: "53 percent of respondents said they had spyware or adware on their computers, but a scan revealed that 80 percent of respondents actually had such programs installed."

What can you do to block spyware, adware, and other malware? There are loads of products that will scan for viruses and spyware, but one very simple solution is to get Firefox.

The open-source web browser is exploding in popularity, in no small part because of spyware and intrusive ads. Not only does Firefox have useful and ingenious extensions like Adblock and BugMeNot, it's available for Windows, Macintosh and Linux machines, and comes in just about any language you could need (except Welsh -- for the moment).

As of last week, 21 percent of AlterNet readers used Firefox, compared to 61 percent for Microsoft's buggy and easily-hacked Internet Explorer. I would love to see Firefox bump IE out of the top spot, especially in light of this news from Slashdot.

To translate the geekspeak, it basically says Microsoft may acquire noted spyware company Claria, and has rewritten the code of its Windows AntiSpyware program to ignore Claria's notorious Gator program when looking for spyware. The wonders from Redmond never cease to amaze me ...

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