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By Joel Klebanoff

The Scumware Conspiracy

I'm not a conspiracy theorist. It's true that, as a paranoid person, there's no doubt in my mind--no doubt whatsoever--that everyone, absolutely everyone is out to get me, but I think they're acting independently. Only a particularly diseased mind could believe that the whole world is conniving in concert as part of some grand conspiracy against me. Surprisingly, that's not something I believe. Then again, I may be wrong. Maybe the whole world is plotting against me and I'm the only one who doesn't know it. But no, that couldn't be it, could it?

While I'm not a conspiracy theorist myself, I offer this hypothesis for those among you who are, in case you're running out of theories of your own: Governments and PC makers are working in cahoots to create and infect our computers with spyware, adware, viruses, and other sorts of scumware. Spread the word. And remember, you read it here first.

This isn't something that popped into my mind fully formed. I heard it from a woman I met on the street. She was wearing a hat made of aluminum foil so that the government wouldn't be able to read the electromagnetic pulses generated by her brain and a lead suit to protect her from the gamma rays that our enemies are beaming at us around the clock in order to sterilize us. At least, those were her explanations for her rather bizarre getup. Based on her protective gear, I at first thought she was a woman I had dated for a while, but it turned out that I was wrong about that.

The whole time that I was with her, her eyes constantly shifted furtively from side to side as if she expected to catch somebody following her. In addition, she persistently bobbed and weaved precisely out of synch with the movement of her eyes, which, she explained, made her a more difficult target for the enemies arrayed against her, although it also made our conversation somewhat disconcerting for me. Being an obviously very nervous person, she probably wouldn't have talked to me--a total stranger--at all, but we neurotics have a natural affinity for each other. There was that and the fact that she was from out of town and desperately needed directions to the convention center.

Because she looked extremely weird even to me, I was ready to discount everything she said, but then she told me that she was an investigative journalist. An investigative journalist! How could I possibly doubt her story after learning her occupation? Working undercover, she had infiltrated Area 51, the top-secret military installation in Roswell, New Mexico, where the government is hiding the aliens who landed on our planet. She was in town to attend a UFO convention, where she was going to reveal her findings. I was still reluctant to believe her, but she showed me her press pass, so I knew she was legit. After relating all of this to me, she told me about the last story she worked on--the one in which she discovered the clandestine plot hatched by the government and the PC makers.

I'm no fool. I'm not going to fall for a fairy tale told by some nut on the street. If I wanted to do that, I'd just listen to the voices in my head. So I did my own in-depth analysis of the evidence. I'm now convinced that she's right.

How did I come to this conclusion? Let me start with the PC makers. How do they make their money? They make it by selling PCs. That's how. Anything that helps them sell more PCs makes them more money. Plain and simple.

What did I read in a July 17, 2005, New York Times article titled "Corrupted PC's Find New Home in the Dumpster?" Yes, that's right. People are junking their PCs rather than going through the aggravation of trying to sweep the adware, spyware, and viruses off of them. That seems a bit extreme to a skinflint like me, but there you have it. There's the clear motive for the PC makers to create and distribute the evil scumware that threatens our computers.

Do you want further evidence? What type of employees do PC makers have in abundance? Geeks, that's what type. Geeks are just as capable of writing malicious software as they are of writing the good kind. OK, now we've got the means and the motive. All we're missing is the opportunity.

Missing? Yeah, right. Even if your PC had been shipped to you clean (and tell me, exactly how would you know that there wasn't already any scumware on it when you got it?), what does every computer come with these days? Along with other suspicious electronics, they come with modems and network cards. In addition, laptops usually even have one or more varieties of wireless networking capabilities built in. You don't have a choice. It's just there. Why do the PC makers do it? Is it out of the goodness of their hearts? Not on your life! Thanks to this ploy, just about everyone's computer is now connected. And that provides the opportunity to distribute scumware. Motive, means, and opportunity--there isn't a jury in the world that would acquit them.

It all comes down to unbounded greed. The PC makers have been making good money over the years simply by relying on legitimate software vendors to continue to add more and more features that people don't really need. At the same time, the software vendors also spend a lot of their marketing dollars to convince people that they can't possibly live without these new features. The result is that no computer older than six months is able to run today's software. But I guess that replacement cycle wasn't short enough for the PC makers. Or maybe they didn't want to rely on someone else to do their dirty work for them any more. Whatever the reason, the case is clear: They wanted more. Greed. Greed. Greed. That's all it is.

OK, I've proven the PC makers' participation in the conspiracy beyond a shadow of a doubt, but what about governments? Where do they fit into this scheme? I'm glad you asked.

Over the past few months, I've been reading about more and more jurisdictions that have imposed or are considering imposing taxes on PCs to cover the cost of disposing of or recycling them. Sure, the tax may initially be set at or below the breakeven point, but how do you bring costs down? Volume, that's how. Governments need their citizens to discard lots and lots of PCs in order to achieve economies of scale and improve efficiency by learning from experience in the governments' disposal and recycling operations. It's the only way that they can make money on these new taxes.

Do governments have the means to develop scumware? Maybe not. If you believe the media, just about every IT project that governments undertake comes in way over budget and way behind schedule, if it's completed at all. If governments tried to write the scumware themselves, they would almost certainly end up losing money on the deal, assuming that they ever managed to finish the software in the first place. That's why they needed to involve the PC makers in their wicked conspiracy. It's an open and shut case.

I know what you're thinking: I've shown only the government's motive. How can I convict them of a conspiracy on such scant evidence? Well I ask you, who are you going to trust, me or the politicians? I rest my case.

So that's it. No rational human being can refute it. The government and the PC makers are participating in a massive conspiracy to inflict spyware, adware, and viruses upon us. Of course, I could be wrong. In which case, the conspiracy theorists can go back to investigating and propounding the fluoride in the water system, the Kennedy assassination, and the faking of the moon landing conspiracy theories.

This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.

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