Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Beware of automatic updates

I heard a story today on KCFR, our local public radio station, that I thought would interest other writers because of its connection to the most important tool we use in our trade: a computer. It was a short radio story that was (I think) done by the BBC and syndicated.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the story online, but basically it was about how software companies are beginning to use automatic updates to hijack our computers. Apple/iTunes, Windows, and even Google are all apparently succumbing to the temptation to get their proverbial feet in our doors — in most cases, without us even noticing.

I can think of one example in the last year. When the iPhone came out, hackers discovered a way to convert songs in their iTunes to ringtones without paying the extra one-dollar conversion fee. Apple found a way to block the hack in iTunes, and sent around an automatic update to fix the problem. I think this went round a few times. When I found out what all the updates were for, I stopped installing them — not because I have the iPhone, but because of the principle of the matter. If the song is already paid for (not stolen), and converting it to a ringtone is as easy as changing the file extension, why should iTunes essentially be making people pay for the song twice?

The reporter recommended that people look at updates before installing them, and I completely agree. Never install anything on your computer without making sure it's something you want on your computer, no matter who it is from!

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