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Viewpoint - A Spyware and Astroturfing Debate? 68

Spazntwich wonders: "Lately, the Viewpoint Corporation has gained attention by being the subject of many debates on whether or not it spreads spyware. Of special interest is its media player which is installed by default with all recent versions of AIM, as a 'required' component. Its difficulty of successful un-installation coupled with its generally suspicious nature of installation and tendency to 'phone home' have drawn many accusations of spyware, but Viewpoint maintains otherwise. They feel so strongly about this that they've even managed to get their software removed from the spyware lists of SpyBot and other anti-spyware vendors, though nobody seems to know whether this was done voluntarily by the vendors or under threat of litigation. Viewpoint claims a strong anti-spyware policy on their site." Is Viewpoint spyware or not, and what have your experiences been with it?
"Of special interest as of late are Viewpoint's apparent plans to begin serving ads through their media player and an astroturfing campaign that can only be described as aggressive and obvious, which you can see demonstrated in the comments of several previously linked articles as well in a discussion on SearchEngine Journal and a discussion thread on AskLeo. A favorite pseudonym of the campaign(ers?) seems to be Michael Tzez, and googling the name demonstrates just how extensive a campaign the company is waging.

I'm curious as to the Slashdot community's thoughts on this."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Viewpoint - A Spyware and Astroturfing Debate?

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  • by ZachPruckowski ( 918562 ) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Thursday May 04, 2006 @10:45PM (#15267881)
    In short, this is the tip of the iceberg. We're probably going to see this a lot more, with companies doing unethical things and not getting put on spyware/adware/malware list. Like the $sys$rootkit, for example, or Google's 33 year cookie. The problem with having watchers (anti-malware industry) that are private companies is, of course, "who watches the Watchers?"
    • At least in this case Free Software provides an opposition to companies doing whatever they wish. If one can install Gaim [sourceforge.net], then there we aren't really at the mercy of AIM's bundling decisions.
    • In particular, if it was SpyBot vs Microsoft AntiSpyware vs some GnuSpy, you'd want to be able to claim more spyware stopped, not less.

      Although I personally don't consider the actual "spying" part of spyware to be unethical, if it's unobtrusive. Google's fine. I don't like the encrypted dialing home, the individual usage of statistics gathered or the inability to prevent gathering them, the popups, and the general plundering of my machine's resources to feed me ads I'm going to ignore anyway.

      Of course, I
    • My definition may be different than yours, and certainly will be different than the software designers. If it reports back to the company in any fashion, even if only the web sites I've visited or ads played/shown on my computer, then I classify it as spyware.

      Until a legal definition of "Spyware" is made, most likely by a court of law, then it will always be up for debate. Once we have that in place, then things won't changed, except that maybe these companies will stop threatening to sue the anti-spyware
  • It's spyware.
    • I don't know about it phoning home, but I for one hate having to scramble for the speaker controls to mute the screaming ads every third time I log on. At the very least it's worth than your average popup. Probably the worst part is when you close the buddy list while playing games, and every 10 minutes the game minimizes so that a new ad can load.
    • Re:guilty as charged (Score:3, Informative)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 )
      I dunno about spyware, but my understanding is that ViewPoint is the AIM component that plays the audio/video adverts.

      Removing it is fairly straight forward.... Close AIM, uninstall ViewPoint from the "Add/Remove Programs" in the Control Panel, then delete the ViewPoint folder.

      How is that hard?

      After you remove it, I think AIM serves up 'normal' ads. I wouldn't know because there's about a million AIM ad removers and I used one of them before reverting back to an older version of AIM.
      • Re:guilty as charged (Score:3, Informative)

        by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
        AIM reinstalled viewpoint the next time it is run,m that was the behavior about a year and a half ago anyways, which is why i switched to GAIM and have never looked back
        • AIM reinstalled viewpoint the next time it is run

          And that's sabotage and vandalism. I never grant permission for anything to install itself if I have removed it. I don't use AIM, but I'd sure be upset about that if I did, if it's true.
  • by Dark Coder ( 66759 ) on Thursday May 04, 2006 @10:47PM (#15267890)
    It is a .... after much intensive code and network analysis ... a spyware.

    Anyway, anything that phone homes a bunch of encrypted packets is spyware, in MY BOOK!
  • Wrong question. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kawika ( 87069 ) on Thursday May 04, 2006 @10:54PM (#15267927)
    What you should be asking is, "What useful purpose does this software serve?" If it's not doing anything useful for you, the user and owner of the computer, then teminate it. Why have it use up memory and disk space for no reason?
  • The question is... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CashCarSTAR ( 548853 ) on Thursday May 04, 2006 @10:57PM (#15267932)
    How easily can it be completly removed? I think that's the big question when it comes to spyware designations or not. It actually doesn't concern myself if a program brings pop-up ads or things like that, as long as it clearly identifies itself as such, and easily allows me to remove the offending software.
    • that's pretty much my measure. If it hides itself, doesn't uninstall, no uninstaller, or a fake uninstaller then it gets killed.
      • Same here. Anything on my computer, loaded by the IT department or not, that tries to hide itself or not allow me to uninstall it gets uninstalled, no matter what it is. A program that tries to embed itself just dares me to wipe it.
    • My experience with it is that it's easily removed. If I remember correctly, you uninstall the Viewpoint Manager and it removes the Media player and the toolbar. There was a particular order to it to remove it in one shot.

      I'm still trying to find out what "Media" this thing actually plays. It's pretty much one of those "Yet another useless search toolbar for IE" programs that does nothing but make someone else money and annoy you to death. Why it's not labeled Spyware just baffles me, then again I'm still wo
    • Ahhhh no, according to Mr Tzez the question is:

      The question you should all be asking - the only question that is important Is:
      I came across this new component on my computer "Viewpoint Manager" is it threatening?

      The answer is NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! 100% safe! Non of the anti-virus/anti-spyware companies recognize Viewpoint components as threats. They don't recognize them period. It is actually on their safe lists. I could sit here and list 50 components that access the internet on your computer and you would have
  • by showardkid ( 823639 ) on Thursday May 04, 2006 @11:00PM (#15267947) Journal
    it's definitely scumware. Think about it. It's tough to remove, it's installed either sneakily or as a component of something else, and now they want it to serve ads. If they're so convinced they're not spyware, they can make their product easily removable. Provide an uninstaller, or leave instructions for manual removal if they're too damn lazy.
  • Different wording (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FLEB ( 312391 )
    Perhaps one of these smaller anti-spyware developers needs to come up with a new terminology. It's not "spyware" or "adware", it's "Crap", or "Software we don't like". Purely opinion-based, so there's no "misrepresentation" claims that keep picking up those pesky lawsuits.
    • It's not "spyware" or "adware", it's "Crap", or "Software we don't like". Purely opinion-based,
      In Spybot, and a few others, they're called PUPs. Possibly Unwanted Programs.
  • Errr, what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Thursday May 04, 2006 @11:06PM (#15267975) Journal
    A favorite pseudonym of the campaign(ers?) seems to be Michael Tzez...

    Sorry, I've missed the part where you back up that assertion except by linking to a bunch of your 1337 friends saying the same thing. According to your Google results, the guy seems to exist, and while he might be a bit too excited over Viewpoint, it doesn't seem like he's alone in that.

    And what kind of stupid astroturf campaign would have multiple people pretending to be a single goofball?

  • Oh My (Score:2, Informative)

    by Flame0001 ( 818040 )
    Viewpoint thinks it's not a bad thing? There's something wrong here.

    My personal experience with Viewpoint was that I had three Viewpoint applications installed on my computer. The media player, the toolbar, and one other one. I could not open Firefox nor Internet Explorer. It simply wouldn't happen no matter what I tried. Scannings for adware/spyware/malware didn't work, until I was finally able to narrow it down to Viewpoint. After uninstalling the Viewpoint apps, my computer worked perfectly.

    I'm still

  • Anything that gets installed as a non-essential but default bundle with anything else is questionable. I didn't even know that viewpoint was installed when I installed AIM. Anything that makes itself hard to install or attempts to hide its phoning home is spyware. Viewpoint is guilty as charged. If a spyware scanner doesn't nab it, maybe a "useless crap" scanner should.
    • Anything that gets installed as a non-essential but default bundle with anything else is questionable.

      I agree. In that light, add Apple to the offenders. I tried to download and install quicktime to watch some videos. What I got was the I tumes installer. I tried 3 times to get Quicktime to download instead of I tunes because it was Quicktime that I wanted. Then I noticed in the print that I tunes comes bundled. From my perspective, it looked like I was downloading I tunes and getting Quicktime bundled
  • How to remove? (Score:4, Informative)

    by $exyNerdie ( 683214 ) on Thursday May 04, 2006 @11:42PM (#15268112) Homepage Journal
    Viewpoint Media Player is a program that is installed during the installation of AOL Instant Messenger that is a plugin for displaying graphical content in the software's own proprietary format. According to the software's end user license agreement, Viewpoint Media Player collects usage information and forwards it to Viewpoint servers. Each installation of Viewpoint Media Player contains a unique alphanumeric identification number that can be used to uniquely identify an installation of the software.

    A successful attempt to remove Viewpoint Media Player while AOL Instant Messenger is still installed will cause AOL Instant Messenger to reinstall Viewpoint Media Player the next time AOL Instant Messenger is run. This advertising can be completely removed however with third-party hacks.

    To remove ad's from AIM: http://aimadhack.webhop.net/ [webhop.net]

    NOTE: I don't use AIM so I would not know if the fix really works or not...

    (Thx wikipedia for the info)
    • >Viewpoint Media Player collects usage information and forwards it to Viewpoint servers. Each installation of Viewpoint Media Player contains a unique alphanumeric identification number that can be used to uniquely identify an installation of the software.

      It uniquely identifies my machine, collects information, and phones home. Q.E.D., it is spyware. Add in that it is installed surreptitiosly as part of something else, is a bitch to uninstall, apparently gets automatically reinstalled by its host ap

  • As a technician I've seen it on hundreds of machines. I always uninstall it not because it's spyware or some malware, but because(and correct me if i'm wrong) this peice of software offers no new functionality to anything. Bloatware if you will.
    • I've had it install itself without me knowing. It can be difficult to get rid of sometimes. When you uninstall it it wants you to say why before you finish. Often I'll be looking through my list of installed programs and every now and then I see it in the list. When I do, I get furious. I consider it a pest, like gator used to be. Therefore I consider it a form of malware.
      • Funny thing is, I had a similar problem trying to get out of playing everquest2. Had to log onto the SOE (sony online entertainment) website, confirm a "secret" question, fill out a 5 page questionair on why I am leaveing and what they could do to make the game so I would stay (correct me if I am wrong, but isn't that their job?), and after all that, they had a 3 screen long page (much scrolling, and thats displayed at small font on 1600x1200 res) to answer a "are you sure you wouldn't rather keep playing"
  • NO (Score:5, Funny)

    by Michael Tzez ( 972960 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @12:17AM (#15268254)
    How dare you pricks call Viewpoint spyware! They have every right to know anything about you that they can discover. It seems a bit shady that you wouldn't want them to know something about you. What are you trying to hide, anyway?

    And so what if it's not easily uninstallable? Who are you to prevent them from doing what they want with your computer or any information they discover or infer from its use? What right do you have to tamper with their software just because it happens to reside on your computer? That's their intellectual property!

    You freely choose to install Viewpoint's software without your knowledge or consent when you don't read the license you agree to when you install AIM. How is that deceptive or even Viewpoint's fault?

    Also, What's wrong with being bombarded with an unstoppable tsunami of advertisements? How else will you know about all the valuable offers that are waiting just for you!
    • You freely choose to install Viewpoint's software without your knowledge or consent when you don't read the license you agree to when you install AIM. How is that deceptive or even Viewpoint's fault?
      Yes. If you are agreeing to shrinkwrap licenses without reading them, then isn't it YOU doing something smarmy and dishonest?
  • by virtualXTC ( 609488 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @12:42AM (#15268334) Homepage
    I just went to aol.co.uk/aim installed their version on my girlfriend's machine (yes I do actually have one so spare me the jokes). It doesn't seem to have the Viewpoint BS bundled with it, has less pop-ups and is way less annoying.
  • Wordplay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grudgelord ( 963249 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @12:46AM (#15268344)
    Perhaps, by their convoluted definition it is not spyware but it is malware no matter how you slice it.

    As one other poster mentioned, this is the genesis of trend. No doubt we will see more of this sort of thing. The spyware, adware, demographic, data mining industry has replaced (grown out of?) the dot-com collapse and the American consumer is left with herds of digital predators with a singular interest: "take the consumer's money".

    It's long been a popular practice for anything sales to tread the slippery slope of both ethics and the law. Spam distributors began creating "subscription newsletters", so its not "spam" anymore. Telemarketing firms and "outside" sales groups no longer "employ" to fill "jobs" but instead offer "opportunities" (as independent contractors so they can evade employment law, a practice I've seen put to shady use countless times). Telemarketers no longer interrupt dinner with a "cold call", they interrupt dinner with a call only to "parties who've expressed an interest", despite the fact that the customer wasn't made aware that they were putting themselves on a list when they filled out that survey at the mall. You can get a free vacation, iPod, dildo, pony, etc... no purchase necessary, as long as you commit to spend the equivalent of the national deficit on some shady promotional hotel package or subscribe to 300 crap-ass magazines owned by a conservative publishing house. I recall once hearing a sales manager tell a group of door-to-doors, "I don't care if you have to knock them down and take their wallet, just get their money". The corporate clowns in the leather chairs promote this behavior. Managers encourage, or even require, "sales associates" to hardsell extended warranties for electronics products. Telemarketers and door-to-door vermin are driven and even threatened to push to the very borders of harassment. The oil companies increase the gas prices to "cover the cost of gasoline reformulation" which reduces gas mileage, further increasing cost...But I digress.

    These companies will manipulate any small detail to be able to say, "It's not spyware", and rest assured, their lawyers have pulled all-nighters splitting the hairs to ensure that this is a "legal" statement. And in legalize it may be true, but legalize != reality.

    In the end I guess it's the physics of bullshit. It's all spin. Hell, it's also up and down and goddamn strange, but it completely lacks beauty or charm. (Yea, I know I left out top and bottom but I couldn't think of a witty BDSM reference to justify them).
    • In the end I guess it's the physics of bullshit. It's all spin. Hell, it's also up and down and goddamn strange, but it completely lacks beauty or charm. (Yea, I know I left out top and bottom but I couldn't think of a witty BDSM reference to justify them).

      Even the top of the heap in this business is a bottom feeder.

      There. Are you happy now?

  • It boggles my mind that Viewpoint would need to resort to spyware, which tends to put me on the side if 'they're being ignorant' as opposed to 'they're being evil'. Viewpoint had a liscenable product, that being effective geometry compression for 3D models. If you've got a good patent lock on that kind of technology, its hard to imagine not being able to turn it into a lot of money. On the other hand I look at their website now and search for the words geometry compression and find virtually nothing. Ei
  • The Viewpoint Media Player also comes pre-installed on Dell PCs, at least in the UK. Although they also come with every piece of crapware that AOL have ever produced, so it may be a part of that.

    I uninstalled it as soon as I saw it on the principle that anything calling itself a media player that isn't WMP, Winamp etc.. is almost certainly adware or spyware and should be terminated with extreme prejudice. Unless it's called Quicktime, in which case just burn the computer. Before all the Apple fans get upset
    • Here (USA) it's common knowledge among those who make frequent dell purchases-- choose earthlink over AOL, because earthlink is easier to remove when you get the box....

    • Unless it's called Quicktime, in which case just burn the computer. Before all the Apple fans get upset, I'm not suggesting that Quickime is spyware. No, I'm merely suggesting that it's the crappiest, most irritating piece of software ever shat into existence by anybody.

      I'm a Mac user, yes, but honestly -- I don't find it that annoying. It plays movies. It plays audio. It also doesn't reinstall itself or try to access the outside world unless you ask it to. How is it annoying and crappy? It also does a good
      • Not the OP, but another Quicktime hater here.

        Quicktime:

        * Puts something in the registry to run at startup. Not sure what it is supposed to be doing, but fairly sure I don't want it to be doing it.
        * Shows a nag-screen offering me the exciting opportunity to "go pro", and send them some money.
        * Doesn't let me play in full screen.
        * And number one most important irritation: Isn't my player of choice. I should not be forced to use a specific player to play their media format. Quicktime video and audio should pla
        • Well ... yes, the Windows version can do those things, but I'm pretty sure you can disable the "run at startup" with a checkmark in preferences or in the installer.

          Just deny the go-pro screen; that is the one annoyance that I really do agree with you on. But it'll still play movies just fine if you deny it.

          It does play full screen -- if you go pro. Kind of annoying. I'm not sure how annoying to say that that is, as I don't use the feature much.

          But ... as for the forcing to use a specific player? I point out
          • Yes, I did mean the Windows version, I should have mentioned that in my post. I can't speak for the Mac version, I haven't used it.

            I've looked for the option to disable the run at startup thing, but have not been able to find it anywhere in the preferences for the player or for quicktime. Perhaps it was an install option, but I am usually thorough in looking through installer choices (including managing to get QuickTime without having to install iTunes, heh), and would certainly not have enabled it if it wa
            • Hmm, I don't use the Windows version often (I mostly use my Windows system for gaming) but I do know that if you run msconfig, you can get rid of a lot of the crud that runs at startup, including QT; give it a try.

              Maybe it has to do with the websites we read but I tend to see a rather lot of stuff encoded in WMV just as much as I see a lot of stuff in Quicktime (but not as much as WMV).

              I'd like to see all media formats opened up too so that any player can play any video, but as long as companies want to mak
  • There are a lot of programs on my machine that I don't know how they got there. For me to label all of them as spyware, would be ignorant indeed. I don't know about you guys, but I don't read every EULA for every software I install. And with companies bundling software so often, it doesn't suprise me that I have so many programs installed on my machine. So with that said, it would be REALLY SMART to actually see what these applications are doing. This is what you have to do to determine if a piece of s
    • VIEWPOINT IS NOT SPYWARE! They are checking for updates and updating their player. Sorry to dissapoint... Sometimes the truth hurts.

      And sneaking onto systems and reporting what the user does using a unique ID, and showing ads, is not spyware? That's pretty much textbook spyware.

      Sorry to dissapoint. Sometimes the truth hurts.
      • "and reporting what the user does using a unique ID"

        Did you even read what I wrote, or run the test?
        I've found no network traffic that "reports what the user does."

        And bundling software is sneaking onto systems? Guess a lot of companies are spyware now. Guess Microsoft is a spyware company because they bundled Internet Explorer with Windows, huh?

        And OMG! A media player that plays ads. WOW what's this world coming to! Next thing you know, televisions are going to be playing comercials.
        Does any
        • Did you even read what I wrote, or run the test?
          I've found no network traffic that "reports what the user does."


          Yes. I also read the part where the user agreement states that Viewpoint places a unique identifier on each PC which means that there is tracking of some kind. If there wasn't, what would the unique ID be needed for?

          You aren't paranoid if there really is something going on.
  • Viewpoint is Malware / unwanted. Period. It's Malware / unwanted because I, the consumer, say I don't want it.

    Why do I not want it? Over a year ago it started popping up dialogs on my screen. Once it automatically downloaded a toolbar on to my computer. When it did that, it displayed a liscense agreement that I could not cancel.

    Fortunatly, I was able to get rid of the thing for good by switching to GAIM.

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