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Dell To Techs: Don't Help Customers Remove Spyware 1013

Posted by timothy
from the thanks-mike-thanks-a-bunch dept.
Alien54 writes "Well, more exactly, be advised that if you are giving a Dell for Xmas, not only will it probably come preloaded with spyware, but their tech support lines will refuse to tell users how to remove it, and will not give people advice on where to find some good tools to remove it. As seen in the latest newsletter from SpyWareInfo, Dell sent an internal memo to its tech support minions which says in part: 'NOTICE: Use of spyware removal software may conflict with user license agreements of other applications installed on your system. Please consult your user license agreements for further information. Dell does not endorse the use of spyware removal software and cannot provide support on these products.' This means we do not take callers to download.com or doxdesk.com, nor do we recommend spyware removal programs, nor do we advise callers on the use of spyware removal programs. This includes using phrases "We don't support the removal of spyware, but I use..."'" (Read on below.Update: 12/03 06:36 GMT by T : And for an update, too.)
"Now isn't that just nifty. Several folks in the antispyware/antivirus community have signed an open letter to Dell Inc. asking them to retract this possibly foolish and misguided policy. That letter is located at here." Update: 12/03 06:36 GMT Mike Healan, editor of spywareinfo.com, writes "The original posting is misleading. Dell is absolutely not installing or preinstalling spyware and the headline gives the impression that it is."
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Dell To Techs: Don't Help Customers Remove Spyware

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  • Nasty (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Steve 'Rim' Jobs (728708) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:37PM (#7615189) Journal
    But an obvious solution, I guess, is simply to not recommend Dell to your friends and family. Not that I ever did in the first place.
    • Re:Nasty (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pentalive (449155) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:22AM (#7615546) Journal
      I stopped in at the local gateway barn, and asked about their machines. If you install Linux on your gateway - you void the warrenty.
      • Re:Nasty (Score:5, Interesting)

        by yuri benjamin (222127) <yuridg@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:27AM (#7615580) Journal
        If you install Linux on your gateway - you void the warrenty.
        Even on the hardware? Is that legal?
        • Re:Nasty (Score:5, Interesting)

          by mormop (415983) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @05:42AM (#7616750)
          Had someone in the UK that bought a laptop from Dell. It came with MS Works which she wanted to use for day to day paperwork while visiting clients. Anyhow, first problem was that there was no way to set the deafult page size to A4 or anything other than US Letter for that matter.

          She calls Dell and asks them. The first thing they ask is "have you installed any software on it"? Not seeing a contractual getout coming she told them she'd installed her Mortgage Broking software (for that is her job) only to be told that as she's put software on that didn't come from them it would cost her 15 an answer.

          Now I can see that they don't want to answer questions along the lines of "I put this obscure bit of freeware on and now it won't start" but for christ's sake, bundling a package that requires regedit to set the page size to the correct one for her country and then charging her to sort it out is shitwit behaviour of the worst order.

          After this I won't use the likes of Dell, Gateway, etc., and go for small/medium independant suppliers or build it myself as you can at least get support from the same person who tends to remember you.
          • Re:Nasty (Score:5, Interesting)

            by dillon_rinker (17944) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @10:06AM (#7617772) Homepage
            I will bet you my next five paychecks that this is not official Dell policy. Rather, this is an employee using a vague but believable pseudo-policy to end customer calls as quickly as he can, thereby improving the statistics that are used to evaluate him

            For those who have never worked in a call center, there is one core stat used to evaluate workers: call volume. The more calls you answer, the more they pay you. The phone switches allow this stat to be measured easily. There is the expectation that customers will be satisfied, policies will be followed, etc. but it's practically impossible to measure or verify this.

            Your conclusion still follows - if you can buy locally from someone who can support you, do so. It doesn't matter if you're being screwed by a technician (who disobeys policy) or by his corporate masters (who implement poor policy) - you're still screwed if you buy nationally.
            • Re:Nasty (Score:5, Informative)

              by Rinikusu (28164) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:39PM (#7619155)
              I concur. One of the common "outs" as a technician we had (to decrease call time, increase volume) was to goad the customer into saying "Yes, I installed _anything_" at which point the phone call could be terminated with "Well, sir/ma'am, the problem could be with the software you installed. You will need to uninstall the software and please call back if the problem continues. Thankyouforcalling*click*". Another good one was virii. "Sir/ma'am, we recommend the use of antivirus software and you should do some research to determine which software package is best for your needs. I cannot assist you in backing up your data, but I'd be happy to walk you through a reformat/reinstall of the Operating System which will result in total data loss. No? Thankyouforcalling*click*".

              I found that being in tech support which only used call time and volume as metrics resulted in a two very specific kinds of persons being "bred" to thrive in such an environment: Clever, stinking little boggies (see Bored of the Rings) whose main goal is to find the most amazing way to turn a typical "real support" issue into a support boundary call (i.e. assholes), and clueless script readers who offer absolutely no help other than what they can read and have customers hang up on them. The "good" techs end up becoming disgusted, jaded, and quit or are fired for not meeting metrics.

    • Re:Nasty (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:28AM (#7615587)
      I've been recommending Apple to my family for a while now. It just isn't worth my time to dick around with windows 98, talk people through antivirus installs over the phone, tell people that "No, a firewall isn't an antivirus" and yeah, they need ad-aware.

      Seriously, is there any reason why the clueless folks shouldn't just use apple? Isn't it still more user friendly? Isn't it reliable, with a good warantee?

      Sure, the $1,000 PC is more "powerful" than the $1,000 Apple, but which one do you think will work flawlessly for the next five years?

      I don't have an apple, because I'm a poor college student. Also, they don't have ProE or Solidworks on apple, so I doubt I'll be getting one soon. Or maybe I will, just for home stuff so I won't take work home with me. Who knows?
      • Re:Nasty (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bigman2003 (671309) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:51AM (#7616047) Homepage
        I recommended an Apple one time.

        For the next 3 years, my neighbor/friend would ask me every month or so why they can't run all of the software that was on sale at the computer store.

        I tried to tell them that well, the computer was easier to use, and all that.

        They just wanted to run the copy of Freddy Fish that grandma bought for the kids.

        Honestly, that was the last time I recommended a computer to someone like that.
      • Re:Nasty (Score:4, Interesting)

        by bdowne01 (30824) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @08:43AM (#7617332) Homepage Journal

        Apparently unlike everyone else replying to this, I did buy my mom a Mac.

        Her requirements were problems: Microsoft Money, had an HP printer/fax/copier that didn't have OS X drivers, as well as some other misc. software

        However, running Win2K at the time on a PC, she was having the constant security updates, virus problems, and of course spyware (Gator was rampant on her machine).

        I just explained that not everything she had on the PC would work on the Mac, and she might have to rebuy some of her software or convert to a different package. In return for helping buy her the computer, she agreed to do that.

        HP released an official driver a few months after her G4 arrived, and in the mean time, I let her borrow my old DeskJet.

        That was 3 years ago, and she's never been happier with her Mac. She's had one problem with a faulty modem (a simple return to an Apple store had it fixed in an hour), otherwise it's been problem free, and I've had more free time to work on other things than my mom's computer problems.

        You could copy and paste that story with my mother-in-law as well...

    • by mikeswi (658619) * on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:27AM (#7615895) Homepage Journal
      Just to clarify, the posting for this story is misleading and incorrect. Dell is NOT bundling spyware. Whoever posted it didn't RTFA. I should know, I wrote that article. I've asked Timothy to update the headline.

      FYI, you don't know how beautiful a feeling it is to have your site on the front page of Slashdot, AND have mod points at the same time. I was soooooo tempted......

      Mike Healan
      Editor
      www.spywareinfo.com
  • Sorry, hang on (Score:5, Informative)

    by kid-noodle (669957) <jono&nanosheep,net> on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:38PM (#7615196) Homepage
    That excerpt from the memo says no such thing.

    What it says is Dell are for some reason now very aware that they're at risk of getting sued if they advise people to do thinks that violate somebody's EULA.
    • Re:Sorry, hang on (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nexex (256614) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:44PM (#7615256) Homepage
      not only that, you could you argue that it was an endorsement from dell. if you end up frying your system from using some software the dell tech told you to use, dell might be found liable
    • Re:Sorry, hang on (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BortQ (468164) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:11AM (#7615473) Homepage Journal
      EULA bullshit pisses me off.

      It's just legal FUD. I cannot honestly believe that Dell is scared of breaking some totally unenforceable third-party EULAs.

      There has to be another reason why they are doing this. I can't think of any good ones though...

    • Re: Sorry, hang on (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:26AM (#7615879)


      > That excerpt from the memo says no such thing. What it says is Dell are for some reason now very aware that they're at risk of getting sued if they advise people to do thinks that violate somebody's EULA.

      Of course, the correct solution for Dell would be to tell vendors that they will not ship computers with software that has EULAs that enforce such a blatant screwing of Dell's customers.

      There's something very wrong with the PC economy if a company the size of Dell has to go along with what their suppliers want instead of what their customers want. Especially when what the customers want is so damnably reasonable.

      • Re: Sorry, hang on (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Niten (201835) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @03:55AM (#7616465)

        Of course, the correct solution for Dell would be to tell vendors that they will not ship computers with software that has EULAs that enforce such a blatant screwing of Dell's customers.

        I believe the hypothetical EULAs that kid-noodle is referring to are not EULAs for software pre-installed on the computer, but rather for software that the user installs himself.

        For example: Imagine somebody purchases a Dell, then hooks it up to the Internet and downloads Software A, which includes - and by its EULA can only legally be run with - Spyware B. Now imagine that the user, irritated that B is having its way with his computer, calls Dell tech support for help. If Dell instructs the user to download an Ad-Aware workalike that delete B but leaves A still installed on the system, then Dell has put the user in violation of an EULA.

        Now telling a friend to violate an EULA in such a manner would hardly place any of us in a moral dilemma; however, it does present a potential legal issue, and one that cannot safely be disregarded by a company with as many clients as Dell. I, for one, see how this could be a necessary move on Dell's part.

        Think of it this way: When you buy a new car you are given a warranty on what the manufacturer has sold to you, but you cannot rightfully expect the manufacturer to warranty the new ignition control chip you put in. This is no different.

  • by That_Dan_Guy (589967) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:38PM (#7615199)
    Who's lawyers called up theirs to tell them user license agreements would be violated if Dell techs told people how to remove Spyware and therefore make Dell liable and sueable?!

    Well, no matter, we wipe all the Dells we get in at my company (thank god for RIS).

    Jeesh...
  • by bconway (63464) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:39PM (#7615205) Homepage
    If you buy a Dell, they support the hardware and software they sold you. They don't support random crap you decided to download from the Internet, nor will they be able to answer your cooking questions. Why does this surprise people?
    • by AvantLegion (595806) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:43PM (#7615252) Journal
      Well, the problem is that Dell can get a bad name for customer support, from idiots whose spyware-riddled computers don't work right. If Dell can't fix it for them, then Dell products must be crap, the idiot thinking goes.

      Most people would be smart enough to realize that damage caused from sugar being poured into a car's gas tank is not the responsibility of the car manufacturer, but when it comes to computers, far fewer people are able to make similar parallels.

    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:17AM (#7615511)


      > Why does this surprise people?

      I think it's that quaint old idea that companies should at least pretend to have their customers' best interests in mind.

    • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:18AM (#7615524)
      As Microsoft is quick to tell us: the OS and the browser are the same. They're integrated.

      Dell supports Microsoft's OS and thus its browser. All these spyware apps attach to IE and cause huge problems. I had one person hand me a laptop chock full of spyware constantly changing the homepage (one program would change it and another would change it again) while in the background there were more than a few processes trying to download more spyware and another installing more.

      Needless to say IE didnt work at all, it was just stuck on some orbitz page and the thing was more or less locked-up, but I did manage to get ad-aware to run.

      Most of my friend's PCs problems can be traced to spyware they dont even know about because of how official ActiveX boxes look and the tons of legalese involved.

      Dell would rather recommend a full-reinstall than ask the person "This may remove software you've installed" and be off the hook, legally. Instead Joe and Jane Dell owner will lose their baby photos and everything else they didn't backup after being told to reinstall from the rescue CD.

      I think Dell has the obligation to be honest with their customers. If the tech believes its spyware he should tell them what it is and how to remove it - if they want.

      More generically we need some kind of media campaign or some way to inform people about spyware, perhaps every company giving away free software without spyware should have an obligatory like to Ad Aware or Spybot during the install process.

      Check out some of the support forums in the PC world. A significant number of serious problems are fixed simply with Ad Aware or Spybot.

      Oh well, Dell gets a negative mark for not being honest with their customers. Tell the family to buy a Mac this year.
  • Dude, (Score:3, Funny)

    by xerxesVII (707232) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:40PM (#7615210)
    I'm not getting a Dell!
  • by bravehamster (44836) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:40PM (#7615222) Homepage Journal
    At the small computer shop I run, we're making quite a bit of money these days cleaning off spyware from computers. Everyone has it, and now that it's getting more publicity, everyone wants to get rid of it. When people suddenly realize that their computer actually *is* slower than when they got it, they want it fixed, rather than buying a new one. Which is fine by us. Spyware removal is pure labor. Download AdAware and Spybot, hit it with a double whammy and it's amazing how much smoother older systems run. Viruses used to be the big money makers. Not anymore. So all you Dell customers out there....we'd be happy to help you clean off your system ;)

  • by saderax (718814) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:41PM (#7615233)
    ... used for targeted mass marketing!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:42PM (#7615245)
    so yeah, this is a terrible idea.

    I work in an on-campus computer repair shop. We're the Dell certified repair center for the entire college.

    We pretty much only sell Dells to incoming students, and we're always getting them back in with "my computer is slow." we boot it up and find out they have like 90 million spyware/adaware apps installed. SaveNow, Gator, PrecisionTime, New.Net, WhenUSave, MySearch, SearchNow, IE.Net Drivers, and the list goes on.

    Usually we just remove all of them however we can and send them on their way, but apparently if we do this, we'll now be breaking Dells Warranty?

    this is definitely not cool, since we can't do that and stay certified...
    • by Dagmar d'Surreal (5939) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:41AM (#7615999) Journal
      This should have never been moderated up in the first place. Removing spyware is not in violation of the warranty. Everything that's been posted about this (that has been rational and based on facts) has indicated that the removal of spyware may violate the licence agreements of other software that was installed with those programs. Read some of the EULAs every once in awhile and you will quickly find that partial removal of the software that's being installed (meaning: you keep the app but remove the spyware) is expressly forbidden.

      Of course, if you as an individual want to risk being sued by these nasty companies (which isn't likely to happen since they can't possibly sue you for much) for violation of a EULA, go right ahead. Dell can't risk that kind of nonsense because there are evil lawyers out there who would sue Dell over it, given the chance.

      Remember, this is the new economy, where if you can't come up with good idea and working business model, you can still make a profit by coming up with a half-assed idea and finding people to sue for damages.
  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:42PM (#7615246)

    After a quick RTFA, I see:

    If you or a family member receive a Dell PC as a gift this Christmas, you may be in for a surprise, if it becomes infected with spyware.

    Emphasis mine.

    So there's no spyware known to be shipped on Dells. That's good at least. On to the memo.

    NOTICE: Use of spyware removal software may conflict with user license agreements of other applications installed on your system. Please consult your user license agreements for further information. Dell does not endorse the use of spyware removal software and cannot provide support on these products.

    What?? They won't support third party utilities that muck around in your registry and delete files in your system directory? Those bastards!

    Seriously, nothing to see here folks. It's common sense.

    Weaselmancer

    • by wilson_c (322811) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:01AM (#7615397)
      Seriously, nothing to see here folks. It's common sense.

      Hang on, no it's not. If a customre calls with no clue what's causing problems and the Dell support person on the phone knows, common sense (not to mention common decency) dictates that they point them towards a simple spyware solution. Common sense does not suggest you avoid mentioning the likely source of the problem; it does require that you send your customer to the ISP or the OS vender or in any way start them on a fruitless runaround when you could simply say "spybot might solve your problem".


      I understand Dell's liability concerns regarding EULA's they know nothing about, but it smacks of cowardice when a corporate behemoth is afraid to give decent tech support. Are they that afraid of Gator and other scumbag spyware companies?

  • well, duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rebelcool (247749) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:43PM (#7615250)
    More often than not, the EULA's of software that install spyware contain a clause about it saying 'you agree to install this horse shit v1.0 blah blah blah'.

    Now, of course, you can violate the EULA and get yourself some spyware removing tools and be ride of it.

    Its a whole other story though, if Dell starts advising people to break these agreements. Granted, they are legally gray, but thats the point entirely of not wanting to get into the fray and being a potential party to breaking a contractual agreement.

    A lawsuit avoided entirely is better than a lawsuit won.

  • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:44PM (#7615261)
    All Dell is saying that they can't endorse any spyware removal software. They are not endorsing any spyware. Most likely this is only to save Dell from any legal entanglements. Legally they might be liable to spyware companies if they intervene on user's behalf. If you read the last line, they are telling their reps that they can give personal testimonials but cannot do so for the company. While this is not an ideal solution, we do live in a litigious society.
  • some reasons why (Score:5, Informative)

    by rritterson (588983) * on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:45PM (#7615265)
    This is a week old news item. The discussion on the security forum of Dslreports [dslreports.com] brought up some good points. (See this [dslreports.com] post.)

    What happens if the user hoses a system using one of the tools? HijackThis will allow you to 'fix' items that shouldn't be fixed. Spybot can do the same. In my opinion, a spyware killer in a novice's hands can be as damaging as some spyware.

    Dell is also covering themselves against lawsuits, as the article pointed out. This should ultimately keep the prices down anyway. Come on folks- Dell support has ceased to be good. You buy a dell for a good price on a great computer, and then you hit up your neighborhood geek if you mess something up.

    On a different topic, I wonder just what preinstalled spyware the article was talking about?
    • Re:some reasons why (Score:5, Informative)

      by UserChrisCanter4 (464072) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @03:19AM (#7616374)
      Excellent point. I work in a retail store as a repair tech, and we started running into new.net (the most sinister of all spyware for reasons that will become clear very soon) about 6 or 7 months ago. New.Net basically hijacks the TCP stack in Windows, and forcibly removing it with ad-aware will screw windows up to the point where it needs to be re-installed. Of course, our simple process now is to just manually uninstall new.net, then proceed with the normal ad-aware process.

      Can you imagine the fun Dell's tech support would have trying to fix this? "um, oky, run this random program, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, make sure there isn't this other program."
  • Confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr. No Skills (591753) <lskywalker AT hotmail DOT com> on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:45PM (#7615273) Journal
    Well, I was starting to type a message about how disappointed I was with Dell, given all the money I've thrown them. Then, I RTFA for a change and this may not be as bad as it seems.

    Dell may just be concerned about legal issues with helping Joe User de-install some software where the EULA requires the Spyware to be running -- Dell would be the ones with the deep pockets after all. And, some spyware removal that involves registry changes might destablize things in some way (I don't know). Probably more corporate lawyer nonsense than a misguided attempt to support spyware in its various forms.

    Some program installs come with spyware, and the license agreement does require leaving it alone (since that's the compensation they get for the free software). So, Dell may just not want to step into the middle of this.

    Maybe the finger should stay focused on the spyware creaters and bundlers for the time being...
  • by bigberk (547360) <bigberk@users.pc9.org> on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:48PM (#7615293)

    These days we buy the hardware and, sure the preloaded software probably sucks, so you reconfigure what you want or possibly even reinstall your OS. No problem!

    But what happens when the hardware is in cahoots with the operating system, as will be the case with trusted computing [wikipedia.org]? Well it may be a lot more difficult to get your computer to do what you want, because certain software components carrying the right keys will easily slide into operating system hooks, while un-"trusted" software (the stuff you want to run) is more difficult to install and run freely.

    I can imagine what a spyware-sporting vendor can accomplish with a trusted computing system. Their spyware, "trusted" software, may be automatically installed and automatically re-installed beyond your control. 3rd party efforts to keep this unwanted software out of the system will fail, because that 3rd party software (no matter what you want) is untrusted... hell, the BIOS itself [phoenix.com] will help police usage of the system. You're in luck, your hardware is going to protect you ;)

  • by JayBlalock (635935) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:48PM (#7615296)
    I worked for one of the outsource tech groups that handed customer support for Dell. Their global policy is (or at least was as of a year ago) that they do not support any third party software that didn't ship with the box, period. The Dell techs weren't even technically allowed to help customers remove viruses, although many found loopholes around that. ("I'm not removing a virus, that's against our policies. I'm merely cleaning items out of your startup group and registry which don't need to be there to help the Operating System run better.")

    So it's definately a lousy policy, but this would be a clarification, nothing more.

  • Sounds awful, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dtfinch (661405) * on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:49PM (#7615305) Journal
    The memo only says not to recommend a third party spyware removal program. It does not say they can't assist the users in uninstalling spyware.

    A lot of companies have policies of not recommending third party products they're not prepared to support if something goes wrong.
  • by shadowcabbit (466253) * <cx.thefurryone@net> on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:50PM (#7615308) Journal
    I work for an ISP, and we received advance warning of this about two days ago. The reason we're concerned is because our policy generally states that if it's not a problem with the cable modem, then it's a problem with the computer and thus the customer needs to call the manufacturer. Spyware falls into the category of "problem with the computer". I've been recommending the use of SpybotS&D for about four months now and haven't been blasted by the managers, but other techs are undoubtedly going to get the "but Dell said spyware was something you guys could fix since it uses the internet" song and dance from customers.

    Not that Dell or my company has the right answer either way, but I just wish the weaselly fucks who write spyware would just stop.
  • Comcast, too (Score:5, Informative)

    by FractusMan (711004) * on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:50PM (#7615311)
    Comcast does the same thing. Their software comes preloaded with spyware. Broadjump, I think it's called. It's been a while, but when I worked for them, we were not allowed to say anything regarding spyware or spyware removing, either. I find it quite amusing.
  • by Steve 'Rim' Jobs (728708) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:51PM (#7615321) Journal
    OK, this spyware thing is just one example. The fact is that Dell has just lost touch with their home user customer base. One thing I've learned from working with Dell for the past few years is that they don't give a flip about the home users... But then again, why should they? They make money off corporate/government contracts, not supporting grannies who don't know where the any key is.

    After having such good experiences with Dell in the Office, we started recommending people buy Dell for their home, too. Oh boy BIG mistake. The hardware is substandard, just about every default installation is munged somehow or another, and the things generally stop working within a year. *NO ONE* I know has gotten a good Dell home PC recently. Meanwhile we noticed a definite decrease in quality of customer support in the past year...

    Me: Here's an article from Adobe that says there's a known issue between this motherboard and Adobe Acrobate 5.5, what's the solution?
    Faceless E-mail Tech: Here's an article on how to troubleshoot Windows 2000 startup problems.
    Me: Argh!

    Ad infinitum.

    On that note, is there any big name manufacturer that still makes/supports good home machines? People always ask me recommendations but I'm out of them, other than "Just buy a Mac".
  • Gateway's Policy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EvilFrog (559066) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:53PM (#7615342)
    While I typically don't care much for Gateway, I have noticed whenever I need to take my laptop in for repairs (whenever meaning frequently- the hardware is junk) they have fliers all over the place warning their customers about spyware and telling them how to get rid of it. I've never liked Dell, and I like them even less now. While most of us on Slashdot are just as happy (if not happier) using custom built machines, I know a lot of less savvy users who like having one company they can go to for support. Unfortunately for them, there just don't seem to be many deservedly reputable manufacturers out there anymore.
  • Internal letter?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kajoob (62237) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:54PM (#7615349)
    I think it's good to be a little bit skeptical first before telling everyone not to buy a Dell. That being said, I have some issues:

    1. The validity of supposed 'email' that Dell sent out. According to this site, this refers to Dell's own preloaded applications. OK, but since when would Dell EVER refer to their own applications as "spyware" as they have done in this email. Spyware is now quite a volatile topic, and I would imagine that if Dell did infact have some sort of spyware preloaded on their machines, they'd at least be good enough to lie to us (via their techs) about what it is.

    2.3rd Party Applications - As mentioned in (1), I don't think Dell would refer to their own applications as spyware, and if for arguments sake believe the email is geniune, then it refers only to 3rd party applications. So then we have a policy that is in line with Dell's general policy of not supporting 3rd party apps.

    Most of us work in an environment where we have to deal with Dell's. I personally think the machines are pretty good and the service isn't bad. I've even gotten the techs help find a conflict with a 3rd party app before on a couple of occasions, but I recognize this is above and beyond the call of duty. Does Dell owe us a duty if we install 3rd party spyware to tell us to use a 3rd party spyware removal tool? What if that spyware removal tool removes an important dll and hoses the system? Then the tech support lines become even more efficient.

    I just wanted to play devil's advocate here. I have no idea if that email is real or not, but I think we shouldn't immediately jump all over Dell until we can find out the truth. As it stands now, someone has posted a few sentences on a website somewhere - hardly damning evidence.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:19AM (#7615529)

    Having lived in the same city as Dell (in fact my church took over the building that used to house Michael Dell's synagogue...) for 10 years, and having known countless people who worked at Dell, and having worked (as a contractor) at Dell myself, I can confidentaly say there is likely one thing and one thing only going on here.

    Dell is a leader in a very low margin business. They are virtually masterful at cutting costs. Their corporate buildings are made of prefab concrete, somewhere between ugly warehouse and office building, but just nice enough looking to be presentable and not look especially cheap. They expect their employees to work 60 hours a week and PRODUCE. Yet, they don't pay their employees a whole lot. They are the only major employer in the State of Texas, as far as I know, that has a policy of not paying out vacation time when you stop working there. When I worked there years and years ago, one of my duties was to order office supplies. The basic ball point pens were 3 cents each (due to a special deal with a supplier, I believe), and I was instructed not to order anything other than basic pens without a good reason. Dell also hires virtually all its workers as contractors first; if they are good enough, they may be hired on, but if not, there are no qualms about letting you go.

    Fundamentally, if there is one characteristic that describes Dell, it's that they're cheap, cheap, CHEAP.

    So, unless there is some evidence to support a different viewpoint, I'm quite certain that Dell is doing this only because they don't want those people to screw up their systems and call tech support back begging for help. Because that would cost more money.

    And, to be fair, it's not as if Dell owes their customer help with some problem that is not Dell's fault anyway. If they did offer support for things like that, it might entice people to buy their products, but it would be just a perk.

  • by lurker412 (706164) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:24AM (#7615560)
    If spyware was included in the machine that Dell shipped, then the issue is really: why did they include this software in the first place? If they are including spyware on new machines, then they deserve death by a thousand paper cuts. On the other hand, if someone ends up with Gator-or whatever alias they came up with lately-because they installed Kazaa, then it seems to be reasonable that Dell would not want to get involved in the risks of removing scumware from their machines.

    Flame me if you like, but I have had pretty good experiences with Dell's tech support on the few occasions I have needed it. Mind you, I only go to them for hardware issues. I don't see that they have any obligation to provide support for stupid things that I might do with my own software.

  • And in other news: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spoco2 (322835) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:46AM (#7615680)
    * Car manufacturers won't give people instructions on how to fit after market exhausts.
    * Mobile phone makers won't guide people through how to fit after market flashing antenna attachments to their phones.
    * Apple won't support customers who want to install linux over the top of OSX...

    Really... this is predominantely a guy bitching about how Dell won't send people to his website to buy his product (he is, check the article)...

    They have no reason to provide support such as this, it's time the consultants should be using to support the Dell Hardware and Dell Software. Let LavaSoft et al handle their own darn support.
  • I don't get it... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LucidityZero (602202) <sometimesitsalex&gmail,com> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:37AM (#7615961) Homepage
    I have a dell running Linux... I've never had a spyware problem...


    Oh, wait. You mean it's the OPERATING SYSTEM that is at fault here, and not the machine?

    Oh, wait. You mean that everyone here is flipping out cause Dell won't support users making bad decisions due to an insecure OS?

    How is this Dell's fault again? Seriously...

  • by Mike McCune (18136) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:38AM (#7615975) Homepage
    Or maybe the higher ups at Dell have been toking a few too many with "The Dell Dude" [thesmokinggun.com]
  • User Error (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KevMar (471257) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:49AM (#7616030) Homepage Journal
    The real problem is when we do clear out all spyware, pop-ups, and other crap that drains preformance, we quickly disable it. We either use tools, reg hacks, or msconfig. and it is gone.

    Now when we do that to a users computer, especialy a home user. apps no longer work, their taskbar nolonger tells the tempature, gator no longer saves passwords, that talking monkey or pariot is gone, that flag is gone, and the wallpaper dont change anymore. To them, we broke it. It dont work now and it did before.

    The real problem is that it takes so much work to educate those users.

    My solution, reformat and reinstall. (use any os except the system restore)
  • by zacnboat (714905) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:50AM (#7616043)
    It seems that everyone is so concerned with whether or not Dell is providing support solutions through third party software when the real issue is how that same third party spyware removal software (eg Adaware, Spybot S&D, etc) has the capacity to cripple a computer's access to the internet through IE.

    Some of the most insidious spyware that people pick up in their day to day work on the internet has the potential to completely disable internet access using Internet Explorer if it is removed from the system.

    Now, I'm not advocating spy-ware, or suggesting that these programs are at all righteous--the developers of that software should be hanged--but it doesn't change the fact that if a company like Dell were to recommend that their users download and install something like Adaware they are getting themselves into a whole mess of follow up problems with inept users.

    Any software that can potentially shut down the browser that the vast majority of non-saavy computer users employ everyday probably shouldn't be endorsed by a company like Dell... they would be creating a ton of work for themselves trying to explain which pieces of spy-ware should be removed and quarantined, and which should be dealt with by other means. Also, once you've explained what should be removed, then you have to deal with how to remove the spy-ware that Adaware shouldn't touch. We're talking about lots of man hours, and educational phone calls with inept users.

    I think we can all agree that it isn't Dell's job to educate every user that owns a Dell on how they should remove spyware that is potentially going to comprimise their internet access through IE. Most people are just incapable of that level of skill anyway. I know I wouldn't want to walk a sixty year old grandma through all that over the phone.

    Let's be realistic.

  • It's good for me. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Freak (16973) <prius@driver.mac@com> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @02:14AM (#7616172) Journal
    I'm an on-site computer technician. Probably 25-33% of my business is fixing spyware/adware-related issues. Out of my four jobs today, running Ad-Aware fully fixed three of them. The fourth also had a virus. (Yet spyware was causing more problems than the virus.)

    I say more power to them. Heck, I love Microsoft. Without all the security holes in Windows XP, I wouldn't have much business. (I even got to be on the local TV news as an expert on computers when blaster hit. My recommendation, on the air, was to buy a Mac, or run Linux.)

    No, this post is not a troll. MS' bad security is good for me. Dell's new decision is good for me. Heck, anything that is bad for the user is good for me. (Although my PowerBook, which I carry with me to appointments, and tend to pull out at least once per appointment to make notes, or look things up, is probably bad for me. People see that I use a Mac, ask me which is better, and I flat out tell them. I wonder how many ex-clients are using a Mac now, and haven't called me because of it?)
  • Since When... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LuYu (519260) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @04:13AM (#7616502) Homepage Journal

    The article says:

    Dell cites the possibility that removing spyware might violate user agreements between the user and some other company.
    ...
    NOTICE: Use of spyware removal software may conflict with user license agreements of other applications installed on your system.
    Since when does copyright protect the "right" to restrict people from removing information? I would think ripping an unwanted page out of a book and throwing it away would be unquestionably fair use.

    What are we going to have next? Is McDonald's tell us not to remove the pickles on their hamburgers because they have an agreement with some unknown pickle vendor?

  • by ca1v1n (135902) <.moc.cinortonaug. .ta. .koons.> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @05:28AM (#7616725)
    I work tech support, and we used to recommend ad-aware all the time. Then we started noticing it botching removals left and right, leaving systems worse off than they were before. The new policy is "There's a product called ad-aware you could try. Use it at your own risk." It's completely understandable for Dell to not allow their techs to even say that, because as anyone who has ever worked tech support will tell you, users do not understand the concept of cause and effect, and they certainly don't listen. Every now and then, one of our techs will accidentally mention ad-aware or something like it in a context that doesn't strongly imply that using it is dangerous. Usually nothing happens. One guy got unlucky, and the user's hard drive crashed the next day. We made him do the data recovery anyway, since from the perspective of the user, it was his fault, and it's difficult to protect him when he recommended a product that's known to occasionally screw up systems. If their hard drive had crashed after he recommended something on the okay list, we'd have backed him up.

    The critical thing to remember is that users have a tendency to be paranoid, stupid, and dishonest as long as they're on the phone with tech support. You can save yourself a world of pain by not giving them any excuse to blame their mistakes on you. Maybe it's not nice that Dell won't help these people, but it's good business sense.

    Note: I am not saying that ad-aware or any other anti-spyware program is bug-ridden and dangerous by itself. What I'm referring to is the nasty habit of spyware to be designed in such a way as to make it very difficult to completely remove, and incomplete removal results in Bad Things happening. This is why if someone has spyware that won't uninstall, we take them through manual removal. It may be tedious, but we know it works. Since we have documentation for that, the user can't blame us if they screw it up.

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