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

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 or, 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, 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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  • Sorry, hang on (Score:5, Informative)

    by kid-noodle ( 669957 ) <> 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.
  • 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 ;)

  • 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 [] brought up some good points. (See this [] 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?
  • alternative (Score:4, Informative)

    by ciaran_o_riordan ( 662132 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:49PM (#7615303) Homepage
    > Dell provides special CDs to restore Dell programs...

    Debian provide some pretty special CDs too.
  • 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 jon787 ( 512497 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2003 @11:57PM (#7615366) Homepage Journal
    Dell ships you a half dozen CDs. The first one is window reinstall. Then there is a drivers, utilities, and diagnostics one. And the a few application CDs. You don't have to reinstall everything, in fact IIRC the windows reinstall disc doesn't even remind you to go install drivers. Which could catch some people off guard.

    This all assumes they didn't change it in the last year.
  • by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:03AM (#7615413)
    No need to search... on each Dell, there is the service tag number. Go to, look it up, and hit the downloads page. All the right drivers, versions, etc. by type (video, audio, etc) and OS. You can also look up how the system left the factory, etc.

    We use Dell OptiPlexi here at work, and I see very few problems with them hardware wise that isn't fixed in a few days. Software wise, we just make our own images and ghost 'em out, so I don't know what kind of install job Dell does.
  • 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.

  • The GAIN Network (Score:2, Informative)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:21AM (#7615542) Homepage Journal

    Who's lawyers called up theirs to tell them user license agreements would be violated

    Many programs include Claria's GAIN Network [] software to deliver advertisements that fund continued development of the programs, with EULA terms to the effect: "You agree not to interfere with the function of the advertisement delivery software included with this Program."

  • I work for dell... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:21AM (#7615543)
    as an L2. And I'm posting from home(for once). I can tell you this, I didn't get any memo today, yesterday or last week about this. If such a thing would have come out, I would have heard about it.
  • by ottothecow ( 600101 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:24AM (#7615565) Homepage
    try that again...I have a dell from when tehy had nice biege cases and it shipped with windows OEM cds, but the new dells in thier black fold open case things...they come with a system restore cd, bunch of software and a custom windows install, no seperate disks or options anymore
  • by flynt ( 248848 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:27AM (#7615579)
    Dell is selling you a computer with spyware PRE-INSTALLED

    Says who??? The only place it says that is in the write-up submitted to Slashdot. Let's have a look at what spywareinfo has to say...

    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.

    So it sounds like just what the parent of your post claimed; they simply won't help you remove the crap you put on yourself. Try to keep your facts straight next time instead of jumping to unwarranted conclusions. Also, use that advice for all your life's endeavors.

  • Re:...An Answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Deimios ( 317819 ) <jamie@donutsford ... Wcom minus berry> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:33AM (#7615619) Homepage
    In the open letter from the anti-spyware community, they say a representative from Dell informed them the response would be: "Call your ISP."

    I work for tech support for a major US DSL provider, and we're not allowed to remove spyware...we are supposed to refer the customer to their manufacturer. We are not even allowed to recommend AdAware or Spybot S&D to a these companies even talk to each other about anything? Nobody seems to want to take responsibility for helping users rid themselves of this garbage.
  • by Dhalka226 ( 559740 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:41AM (#7615662)

    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

    I don't agree. I just purchased a Dell a few weeks ago. I did have a problem with it: When I got it, it began lagging to unusability (five minute boot times and about the same to load any program) about the second day. It would randomly alternate between terrible lag and perfectly fine. My guess was that the hard drive was on its way out.

    Anyway, it was a new computer. I am quite capable of replacing a hard drive--and indeed, they offered to send a replacement--but I didn't care to do it for a computer I had just bought. They offered a new motherboard; again I refused. It didn't take long. They offered to replace the entire computer. To top it off, they got the new computer coming to me the day after my call and sent it Next Day Air. They, of course, provided free shipping for the broken computer back to them, so the two weeks of delay I was worried about was slashed to days and the potential hassle turned out to be minimal.

    Now I'm not happy about getting a machine that started dying the minute I took it out of the box, but I was happy with their level of responsiveness and the speed with which they remedied the problem. Also, my brother bought a Dell about a year before about had absolutely no problems with them. (He also purchased several Dells for his workplace, with no complaints, and Dell showed their appreciation for his multitude of purchases--they were in his name, not the companies, by the way--by giving him a free PDA.) I know other people who have Dells as well and haven't heard them complain about the machine or the service.

    Is the tech support good? No. It's the same thing you encounter at most places though: Somebody reading from a set of files. Sadly that is sufficient for most callers who forgot to plug their machine in but little beyond. We just saw an article on /. that Dell is moving their call centers back from India, so maybe that will help. I'm not holding my breath, but I'm not willing to complain about Dell's support when even companies as huge as Microsoft, with their sort of money they could be throwing around, have their techs reading from a document that I could have just read from the Internet. As far as their responsiveness to my issues and willingess to fix the problem, I have no absolutely no complaints. I pushed for the solution that would cause them the absolute worst headache and monetary cost and they agreed without incident.

  • by gid ( 5195 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:55AM (#7615725) Homepage
    Kind of like a fiend of mine. I sold him one of my extra computers awhile back. Maybe about a month ago he calls me up, saying that IE is out of control, as he's getting quite a few popups. He's your average single white male, who visits the occassional porn site with other friends who come over and using his computer, doing God knows what, and let me tell you, that computer was a mess. Basically as soon as you opened up IE, there were popups all over the place, so many the machine was absolutely unusable. I couldn't help me self, I just sat that in front of the computer, laughing my ass off in amazment how much shit was just automatically popping up without me even doing anything. I had to use ftp to download mozilla, install it, download spybot search and destroy, and install and run it, it found hundreds of things wrong. No doubt he got infected with some spyware trojan that installs more spyware.

    Anyways, he now uses mozilla per my advice, and hasn't had a popup since. :)
  • Mom and Pop (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:03AM (#7615763)
    Another reason to buy a custom PC from your local Mom & Pop PC store.

    Local service, REAL support, and zero corporate buffoonery.

  • by ADSkaff ( 726890 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:07AM (#7615786)
    The memo was sent because the spyware programs are removing keys in the registry that shouldn't be removed, resulting in destabilized Windows OS (well... more destabilized). I have first hand experience of this happening. It has always been Dell's policy not to recommend any 3rd party software utilities other than what shipped with that particular system... not that every tech has/will follow(ed) that.
  • by jhylkema ( 545853 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:11AM (#7615804)

    It's very simple, really. They have to pay my fee. It usually involves dinner (good food, what my dearly departed Great Depression-survivor grandma used to call "Reagan food,") gas money, and, in the case of my attorney friend whose machine I built for him, free legal advice. Absent those things, well, sorry, I just don't know anything about that problem.

  • 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
  • by RzUpAnmsCwrds ( 262647 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:41AM (#7615998)
    "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."

    Oh my god.

    Is Slashdot really this stupid?

    Trusted computing
    - Will not make viruses "slide in" to the OS.
    - Will not attempt to stop you from running untrusted code

    Let me tell you exactly what "Trusted Computing" is:

    - Trusted computing is a combination of a hardware standard (TCPA) and a software system based on .NET

    - Trusted computing allows the BIOS to verify that the operating system matches a specific signature.

    - Trusted computing allows an application to determine whether the operating system matches a specific signature, and whether the drivers match a specific signature.

    - Trusted computing allows an application to ensure that it has not been modified.

    - Trusted computing allows the OS to check the signature on an application before it is run

    That's it. That's all that Microsoft's "trusted computing" does.

    Trusted computing will not:
    - Prevent you from running Linux on your system
    - Prevent you from running an older version of Windows on your system
    - Prevent you from running unsigned code on your Longhorn based system
    - Prevent you from using unsigned drivers
    - Prevent you from using unapproved hardware
    - Prevent you from deleting files or folders
    - Prevent you from accessing your HDD on another system
    - Prevent you from modifying the software applications on your system (except those programmed to refuese execution without a proper signature - note that many programs do this already by hashing themselves on startup)

    Trusted Computing may prevent you from:
    - Viewing DRM'd content without signed drivers and approved hardware
    - Viewing DRM'd content without a signed, unmodified operating system
    - Viewing DRM'd content without a TCPA-compliant BIOS
    - Viewing DRM'd content without a signed, unmodified media player/viewer

    "Their spyware, "trusted" software, may be automatically installed and automatically re-installed beyond your control."

    This is FUD. Plain and simple. Spyware will not be "trusted" unless you accept the signature of the author (similar to the way ActiveX controls work now). Spyware will not autoinstall any more than it does today. Spyware will be uninstallable. 3rd-party spyware removal software will still run. The BIOS will not prevent you from executing spyware-removal software.

    In other words, the parent is blatantly lying in everything that was said.

    (Disclamer: This is derived from Microsoft's statements. Windows Longhorn has not been released. Trusted Computing is as-of-yet unimplemented. Microsoft may choose to tighten or loosen aspects of the system before the release of Windows Longhorn. Facts based on my knowledge of Microsoft and independent claims. Facts may not be 100% correct.)
  • Re:Nasty (Score:3, Informative)

    by bronaugh ( 726253 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:41AM (#7616000)

    Usually, I'd refuse to take the bait, but you're wrong here.

    This is what the 'search' parameter is about in /etc/resolv.conf if on Linux(dunno about more general UNIX) or whatever monkey-word they use in Windows. Basically, it'll try resolving barewords like the one you posted there first using normal resolve techniques, then it'll tack on the domain and try again if resolving fails. So it might have been or something... nonetheless, tech support guy was probably a drooling idiot.

    But they're not always totally full of crap -- I've had some good help from them on occasion, usually pointing out my more dumbass mistakes (which I'm grateful for -- saves me a lot of time).

  • Re:Nasty (Score:1, Informative)

    by Spl0it ( 541008 ) <> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:42AM (#7616003) Homepage
    I recommend friends and family to Superior Computers [], just your local computer store (London, Ontario), with excellent service. Why pay some big coporation that doesn't help you with things like this when you can goto the local store have it fixed infront of you in 30minutes and pay a small but worthwhile fee until you learn how to do it yourself from watching :)
  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:55AM (#7616072)
    Yeah, you say that it's hinted at in the post, but obviously the aluminum foil in your hat was in your eyes, too. The post didn't say that the article said that Dell was installing spyware. Read it again. He was speculating.

    Typical /. moron.
  • by laird ( 2705 ) < minus math_god> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:56AM (#7616078) Journal
    They've rewritten the article to explicitly corrent for /.'s misleading article summary (and I didn't catch the "if" in the article the first time around, my bad). Dell is _not_ installing spyware on PC's, they're just refusing to help any of their customers who end up with spyware on their computer. I still think that this is a mistake, since Dell should be more concerned with their customer's computer working than in offending some spyware company's lawyers, but it's not as horrifying as I earlier thought.
  • by laird ( 2705 ) < minus math_god> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @02:02AM (#7616118) Journal
    You're correct -- I misread the article (which has since been made more clear in correcting /.'s summary). That being said, I think that it's lame of Dell not to at least guide naive users towards third party products that could help them. Especially since adware is almost always snuck onto PC's without the user's knowledge (bundled into some other app, or via ActiveX, etc., with only a vague or misleading description). Given how big a problem this is for many users (pretty much anyone with a PC), it's pretty irresponsible of Dell to refuse to discuss the problem with its customers.
  • by FCKGW ( 664530 ) <cclpez802 AT sneakemail DOT com> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @02:03AM (#7616125)

    Amen! I'd like to kick the ass of whoever thought of the nonstandard power supply pinout on Dell and other big cheapass OEMs. Especially when it looks just like a real ATX connector.

    Anyway, to continue this offtopic post, here's what I did last time I needed to replace a motherboard in a big-name OEM computer -- a Compaq. Unplug the power supply from everything. Use the ATX power pinout [] as a reference and find pin 14. It's usually the green wire, but don't trust the colors. Stick one end of a straightened paperclip into pin 14, and stick the other end into any of the ground pins. Now plug in the power supply, make sure the switch on the back is turned on if it has one, and use a multimeter to see if it's standard ATX or some proprietary crap. Surprisingly, my friend's Compaq had a power supply and mobo with a standard ATX pinout. If you find yourself with a nonstandard power supply, either rewire it or get a new one. And don't ever expect tech support from the OEM again.

  • by MCZapf ( 218870 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @02:08AM (#7616142)
    It's entirely possible that some spammer just decided to try sending messages to "dell" at a whole bunch of domain names (dell@...). You aren't the only one to use such an anti-spam scheme, the spammers are certainly wise to the scheme, and they'll do anything to get a message through.
  • Re:The GAIN Network (Score:3, Informative)

    by ShinmaWa ( 449201 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @02:26AM (#7616213)
    "You agree not to interfere with the function of the advertisement delivery software included with this Program."

    Ummmm... So how does that work?

    If you interfere with the program by getting rid of it, you've violated the EULA and no longer have license to use the software you got rid of?

    (Yes, I know it applies to the bundled software, but I still thought it was funny.)
  • by Vaughn Anderson ( 581869 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @02:39AM (#7616248)
    So it sounds like just what the parent of your post claimed; they simply won't help you remove the crap you put on yourself. Try to keep your facts straight next time instead of jumping to unwarranted conclusions.

    You may want to reconsider your statement. Read carefully.

    NOTICE: Use of spyware removal software may conflict with user license agreements of other applications installed on your system.

    Of what knowledge does Dell have of EULA's on your system other than the ones they have installed?

  • Re:Nasty (Score:3, Informative)

    by PReDiToR ( 687141 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @03:02AM (#7616313) Homepage Journal
  • by PReDiToR ( 687141 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @03:05AM (#7616320) Homepage Journal
    probably to keep Gator and its ilk from suing the pants off of them

    Gator got pissed that people were calling their product spyware, and instead of changing their product, they changed its name.

    Gator is now known as Claria.
    Tell a friend.
  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @03:10AM (#7616344) Journal
    And unknown to me when I made the original submission, the site was in the middle of switching out servers when they got slashdotted at what murphy's law says was precisely the wrong time.

    hilarious as a spectator.... but they have my profound sympathy.

    And Yes, I misread slightly the article. I've been having a bad day and this sort of caps it off....

  • 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 (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, 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."
  • Re:Nasty (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @03:21AM (#7616378)
    Not true either. As the owner of a gateway, i can attest to warrenting a gateway laptop that had linux installed on it this summer (mobo failed). Gateway knew I had installed linux. No problems. They just won't tech linux. Which is quite reasonable as no one supports software they didn't sell. As a side note, the gateway laptops take linux (SuSe at least) quite well.
  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @03:31AM (#7616407)
    Here's how Dell support works:

    If you have a Latitude or an Optiplex you get a much better support experience because these are their high-end business models. Most of my Dell (well when they didnt ship my phone call out to india) support is pretty good because we have a business account and all the fun extended warranty stuff that forces them to kiss our ass.

    The home user (Inspiron owners, etc) get the bottom of the barrel support designed to make you jump through every hoop to save money on replacement parts and to deal with the clueless. When I call from work I just say "Yeah this CDROM died, can I get one tomorrow" and we do some chit-chat while he fills in the fields on his computer screen. The next day the drive is here. Trust me, that's not the residential experience at all.
  • Re:Nasty (Score:5, Informative)

    by ibsteveog ( 442616 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @04:01AM (#7616475) Journal
    I hope I don't sound like a troll... but it's fairly easy to read ntfs from DOS... it would naive to think he meant DOS 6.2 or something...

    Look at [], they offer a DOS boot disk capable of reading NTFS partitions, for free-as-in-beer
  • by ca1v1n ( 135902 ) <snook@guanotro[ ].com ['nic' in gap]> 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.
  • Re:Nasty (Score:3, Informative)

    by ncr53c8xx ( 262643 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @05:32AM (#7616736) Homepage
    Even on the hardware? Is that legal?

    Gateway had a policy until a year ago that the warranty would be void if you even installed software after you purchased the computer. For instance, if you installed a retail version of PhotoShop, your warranty would be void. However, this is not illegal.

  • by MImeKillEr ( 445828 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @08:37AM (#7617302) Homepage Journal
    I'd also suggest Spybot Search & Destroy [] -- I've had it catch stuff Adaware didn't.

  • by scumdamn ( 82357 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @09:05AM (#7617429)
    Dell technicians can and will install Spybot or Adaware rather than going through a whole reinstall. Remember that there are multiple divisions of Dell Tech Support and that there are multiple sites where techs are located. Just because a "memo" (which is just a glorified email) is sent out doesn't mean it's officially the stance of Dell. Remember, these techs want off the phones as quickly as possible and installing Spybot is much faster than a reinstall. I happen to know "official" support policy and currently it doesn't say anything about any Spyware removal software, but Dell's official stance on reccomending third-party software is to say "This program and this program are both good for this kind of thing" rather than endorse just one.
  • Re:Nasty (Score:2, Informative)

    by Travis Fisher ( 141842 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @09:20AM (#7617518)
    pentalive wrote: ... If you install Linux on your gateway - you void the warrenty.

    The same is true for Compaq, at least their laptops marketed through Circuit City. The salesperson let me know this when I asked him if he knew anything about how well the hardware was supported under Linux. He said that some other customers had had trouble getting under-warranty support when they had installed Linux. We stood there and went through every piece of paper that came with the new computer, and no-where was this written down. But when we called Compaq/HP customer service, the woman with the Indian accent eventually verified that this was true. According to her it violates the HARDWARE warranty to even repartition the hard drive. For the pedantics out there, yes, it is possible to get a Linux installation without repartitioning the hard drive, and from what I could tell from their representative this would still make them cry foul about the hardware warranty, but how do I know for sure? It isn't in writing anywhere.

    For the record, this took place about 8 months ago. I ended up buying a Compaq laptop from them anyway and installing Linux, but I usually run Windows XP anyway. (Why? Mainly because I couldn't get Linux to do suspend or power management, and the first time the laptop hard- crashed by running completely out of battery I said I'm never going to do that again because that really will destroy a battery fast, which means never using it on the battery under Linux to be safe...)

  • by advocate_one ( 662832 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @10:57AM (#7618178)
    The Spyware in question here (which everyone appears to be pussyfooting around) is Microsoft's Media Player. AdAware removes the "unique machine identifier" key so that Microsoft can no longer track what DVDs you watch or MP3's, CD's etc you listen to on that installation of the OS... all Microsoft's CDDB or DVDDB knows when Media Player goes online to get the title and track info is that that particular CD or DVD is being played... and they'll have an IP for it as well, but with dialups and other dynamic IP systems, they can't tie it down to a particular machine and user's registration anymore...

    Partly a liability thing, but it's mainly putting the customer in breach of the EULA that he clicks thru with Microsoft. Dell effectively were abetting this EULA breach and it wouldn't surprise me if it were Microsoft themselves who're really behind Dell issuing this internal memo by leaning heavily on Dell for breach of their OEM terms.

  • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @11:02AM (#7618227) Journal
    I've bought things from Dell for maybe 2 years now. About 3 months ago I began getting spam addressed to "dell@...".

    Was it a deliberate thing they did to provide customer email addresses to spammers? Was it an employee smuggling customer data out? Was it an outsource employee doing as much?

    Was it just a dictionary attack on your domain? Are you now just getting spam on that account because it didn't bounce? Maybe the spammers also tried and, but was the only one that went through. Quite frankly, I think that is much more likely than the idea that Dell's customer email list was stolen. Finally, Dell would never do something so incredibly stupid as sell their email list to spammers deliberately. (And even if it did happen, don't you think there would be a front page Slashdot story about it?)

    TechSupport and CustomerService were absolutely clueless, but that's not surprising; although it was funny to see how well they can embarrass themselves.

    Who is embarrassing whom? They're probably genuinely not responsible, so now they're in the awkward position of dealing with a customer who mistakenly blames them for something that's not their fault. There's a saying in medicine that doctors tend to make the worst patients--I suspect that a similar notion might apply in tech support.

  • Re:Nasty (Score:2, Informative)

    by dossen ( 306388 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:26PM (#7619003)
    Funny, I've always been told by people who are supposed to know about such things that batteries should be fully discharged once in a while. How would that be able to hurt the battery, and if it could, I'd expect a safety cut off in hardware before that point (there is afterall enough electronics in laptop batteries to measure voltage, identify manufacturer, and display current charge level, why not cut power when the level gets too low (in fact I'd expect the laptop to shutdown before that time, since the voltage should fall when the battery nears depletion))?
  • Re:Nasty (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @12:38PM (#7619139)
    It can be worse than that. When I was much younger, I worked in a techie call center where whether or not you kept your job (let alone promotions or bonuses in rare cases) hinged entirely on the number of calls you took in a day and the average length of each call.

    Being good wasn't enough. You had to be better not just than the required team goal but to secure yourself a position in the future and not be replaced, you had to be a top-performer.

    Typical tricks to improve your personal statistics involved things like:

    * Answering the customer's question, telling them to call back if your suggestion doesn't work and then hanging up on them without waiting for them to respond or even try out your suggestion.

    * Pretending that you are answering the call, but can't hear your customer and then hanging up the phone after a few seconds. Even if management was listening, it would be hard to prove that it wasn't a hardware problem on your end of things (phone, headset, lines and so on). You could do this several times per day. Having three or four calls with an average of 15 seconds each really improves your overall average significantly.

    * Telling the customer you would do some research so that *that* phone call was brief, to help your stats. Then calling them back later when it isn't going to affect your stats (since you're the one making the call) and giving them an answer.

    We supported a rather complex group of products for a very naive and ignorant customer base, so it took a lot of time and patience to really get a situation resolved. Even so, management frowned upon anyone who could not maintain at least 30 calls per day and to really stand out above most of your co-workers, you had to handle perhaps 50 or 60 calls every day. That means that if a tech spent every second of the day on the telephone, they would have less than 10 minutes to spend with each customer. Since you have to factor in breaks, off-line research, meetings and just simple hang-up, answer, pick-up time between each call, six or seven minutes per customer was more realistic.

    The moral of the story is, tech support wants to help customers but you can't waste your time helping customers AND keep your job at the same time and when it comes down to it paying rent and putting clothes on your back is more important to an individual than helping some housewife figure out why her "internet is broken". It is in the tech engineer's best interest to get you the fuck off the phone, with or without a solution to your problem. Customers are nothing more than shit that we have to shovel. Unfortunately.

  • 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.

  • by kent_eh ( 543303 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:49PM (#7619842)
    Actually I think Amiga started the modular hardware thing, and IBM swiftly adopted it. Don't quote me on that though.

    Was that before or after the Apple 2 ?
  • Re:Nasty (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:51PM (#7619853)
    The guy at the Barn was wrong. Gateway supports the hardware warranty 100%. They just wouldn't be able to tell you jack about using Linux on it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @03:08PM (#7620637)
    At last check Music Match Jukebox, about half a dozen games, and either Earthlink or AOL.

    Music Match is known for collecting listener preference data, and Earthlink comes as preloaded software that integrates cookie tracking with internet explorer.

    This is similar to what Sprint DSL did for a while, or perhaps still does under the guise of "driver instalation." That is, you get your setup pack mailed to you with the driver on cd, but a software program comes bundled with it that is required for your connection to work. It is rediculously lame and boggy technology.

    AOL is its own ball of wax, and we declined them, knowing their ways from past experience with some HPs. But we soon found out Earthlink was set up to be just as lame on the Dell.

    Earthlink shut off our account when we uninstalled their software portal and used the legitimate userID, password, and local connection number that came with the account to set up a traditional network connection.

    How Earthlink became aware that we had uninstalled the software is curious, considering we were dialing from the same location and all other variables were the same.

    That is unless they noticed a drop in our tracking output.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.