How the movie industry is causing adware problems
Published September 6th, 2014 at 3:37 PM EDT , modified September 6th, 2014 at 3:37 PM EDT
Before you think I’m saying something I’m not, let me clarify: the movie industry is not deliberately infecting people with adware. Nonetheless, it is their policies that are giving power to the scams that hackers use to infect people with adware… and actual malware, for that matter. This may seem like a stretch, but let’s look at a real-world example that illustrates why this is true.
I have been on a bit of a health kick lately, and part of that involves 35 minutes spent in the basement on a stair climber every day. There’s no denying the positive effect this has had on how I feel day-to-day, but nonetheless, fifteen minutes into a workout, it’s hard to keep that in mind. At that point, my brain is constantly hassling me. “Hurts!” it complains. “If you get off this thing, I promise I won’t make you think about having a soda for 24 hours! No? 48? Okay, okay, you’ve got me, a whole week!”
Of course, if I give in, my traitorous brain reneges on its promise immediately, citing the instant refreshment to be found at the bottom of a can of Coke. And then I look at the number of calories I’ve just consumed compared to what I burned in a piddly 15 minutes on the stair climber, and I know I’ve been beaten.
For this reason, I have to keep that treacherous brain occupied, so it’s not thinking about the pain. At first, I found success watching movies, watched in 35 minute chunks, on my iPad while I worked out. I’ve bought a number of movies on iTunes, and have ripped a few of my favorite DVDs (which I own) with Handbrake, so I had plenty to choose from. It didn’t take as long as I thought to run through all of them, though, and then I was back to being hassled by that grumpy passenger riding inside my skull.
Thus began my flirtation with Netflix. I signed up for a trial subscription, and have been streaming movies and TV shows, and so far it’s great. I’m enjoying the things I’m watching, and that’s keeping the old noggin occupied on the stair climber. Success all around, right?
Not quite. As I’ve been exploring Netflix, looking for things to watch, I’m coming up short. It seems like every time I try to look for a specific movie, I come up empty. So I started going through my personal movie collection, comprising around 70 movies (I’m guessing), most of which are on DVD. Of these movies, only 5 could be found on Netflix.
Thus, I’m looking at an end to my video streaming activities far sooner than I anticipated. I’m sure that Netflix will add more content by the time I run out, but my big question is whether it will be content I want to watch. So much of it isn’t. I considered switching over to Amazon Prime, but the same thing appears to be true of Amazon Prime Instant Video. Most of the movies in my library do not appear to be available for streaming through that service.
Of course, I can rent videos for online streaming fairly cheaply through either iTunes or Amazon. They’re even cheaper per day if I’m stretching out a 2-hour movie to four days… oh, wait. I can’t. These online rentals expire, only allowing me to watch the movie for 24 to 48 hours before I’d have to rent them again. That simply doesn’t work when you’re only watching in half-hour chunks, and I simply don’t have time in my day to spend watching the remainder of a movie I started during a workout.
Purchasing movies is out. That’s simply too high an expense when you consider I’d burn through a typical movie in 3-5 days and then be hungering for another. Plus, I simply don’t want to own most of the movies I’d like to watch (or re-watch). If once is enough, purchasing the movie is often more expensive than just going to see it in the theater when it was new.
So, where am I to go looking to satisfy my movie fix when the content runs out? I am standing here with my credit card in hand, ready to pay a reasonable price for streaming popular movies that I’m interested in… and nobody is stepping forward to take my money. Where am I to turn now? For many people like me, the answer comes in the form of a multitude of free video streaming sites hosted in countries with a tolerance for their citizens breaking the copyright laws of other nations.
David Pogue wrote about this problem back in 2012, and I’m sad to say that very little has changed since then. If anything, the situation has worsened, with the reluctance of Hollywood to make movies available online leading to a proliferation of free video streaming sites. Most of these sites are offering commercial videos for free, in direct violation of the law in the videos’ countries of origin. This is theft, pure and simple.
Why are these streaming sites there, though? It costs a lot of money to put such a service online. The demand is obviously there… but what is the impetus to provide the supply for free? The answer comes from an oft-quoted piece of internet wisdom: “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” In other words, these sites are there so that they can, in some way, shape or form, get paid by having you come to their site.
In a large number of cases, the method of getting paid involves advertising… and not the good, ethical kind of advertising. Most of the web is free because of advertising. No, in this case, we’re talking about seriously bad, unethical advertising, done through adware installed on your system.
People are constantly looking for free videos, and these sites are there to meet the demand. They provide the videos you want to see, and they’ll let you stream them now. All you have to do is download some video plug-in for your browser, or a streaming app that works with their system. So just click here and download that, and you’ll be on your way to free videos in no-time!
Not quite. The software that you end up downloading ranges from completely fake to legitimate “bait” software wrapped in a malicious wrapper to conceal the fact that something else was installed. Oh, sure, there’s usually some kind of license agreement in the installation process, so technically you agreed to having the adware installed. But most people don’t read those things. Worse, if you actually do read them and uncheck the oft-provided checkbox to opt out of the installation, it’s not uncommon for the adware to be installed anyway.
I wrote a couple weeks ago about the growing adware problem in the Mac community, and how Apple needs to step in and stop it. (See The unchecked growth of Mac adware.) However, Apple isn’t the only player here. They only own the system, and one could certainly argue that users are doing what they want to be doing. (Though, in my experience, most users are not aware of what they’re getting into, and are not appreciative after the fact.)
Hollywood could also take action here to cut off a significant portion of the demand. By providing reasonably-priced online streaming of a wide selection of popular movies, the movie studios could provide an outlet for all those people with open wallets looking for a way to watch movies online. Of course, there will always be folks out there looking for something for nothing, but given a safe, inexpensive and legal means for streaming movies, I believe most people will be willing to pay.
Of course, we’ll never know for sure if Hollywood doesn’t give online streaming a fair chance.
If you have been visiting sites like these, and have found yourself deluged with unwanted advertisements, see my Adware Removal Guide for assistance.