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Nothing on the Net is free

Points East

I usually start my day by firing up my computer. I then check my e- mail, which sometimes takes up to a minute to delete 99 percent of it.

I do scan through the e-mail messages on the outside chance that someone I know stayed up later than I did the night before and sent me something I might want to know. But it’s mostly junk, often from a princess in Nigeria who says she has lots of money she wants to share with me. At least I’m guessing that’s what she’s still up to. I haven’t actually opened an email from her in several years, but she still tries to stay in touch.

If it’s not a message from a princess it is one of the zillion Internet scammers who want to give me something for free. Folks, if you have not caught on by now you need to know that there’s nothing free on the Internet. Well there are a few pieces of useful software if you download them from reliable sources, but you pay for them by giving away your address and getting tons of e-mail, or even snail mail and telemarketing calls you neither want nor need.

Now that almost everybody who is anybody has his own website and URL or works someplace that does, it is impossible to guess what’s real and what’s not. As a result, if the mail isn’t from an address I recognize I pretty much trash it all. And I still get taken at least once a week, because I’ll get e-mail that looks like it is from someone I know, when, in fact, it’s from a spammer who has stolen my friend’s address. I’ve even had my own e-mail address stolen a couple or three times, and I am automatically suspicious when I get e-mail from myself because I quit drinking decades ago.

The truth of the matter for most of us — and for 99.9% of the folks who truly believe otherwise — is that every time we log onto the Internet from our home computers we are being watched, and it isn’t Santa Claus who’s watching. Hundreds, more likely thousands, of little digital busybodies are keeping track of every move we make and where we go while we are online, because that information is important to corporate marketing departments who will use it to gauge the likelihood of peddling us their widgets.

When you Google anything there is a vast audience interested in knowing about it and willing to pay for that information. That’s one of the ways that Google stays in business. And you thought it was free? But hey, I’m not knocking it, because it is in fact a wonderful service and I use Google search several times a day. I also use Google Picasa, a socalled “free” photo editing application that is nothing short of amazing.

But if you download it, make absolutely sure you are getting it from the Google.com website, because if you do a routine Internet search you are going to get dozens of hits that encourage you to “download your FREE version here.” Every single one of them, except for Google itself, is going to install a bunch of adware and/or malware on your computer whether you like it or not.

Google doesn’t tell you that every time you use Picasa they are keeping track of what you are doing with it, whether you are online or not. If you spend an hour working on one photograph, it is reasonable to assume that you might want a high quality copy of it. If you aren’t online when you use the app, they will simply collect the stored information when you do go online. And before you know it you will be getting both e-mail and snail mail from companies wanting you to print your photos on aluminum or canvas or some other gimmick.

Companies that make the most recent revolutionary photo printers will also try to get in touch with you as will those who make photo ink and paper. Don’t be surprised if you hear from the big camera companies as well, because the program can detect the make, model and serial number of whatever camera or cell phone you used to shoot the photo.

Still, as freebies go Picasa is the best one I’ve ever run across. It isn’t Photoshop by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a great tool and it’s far less expensive and actually better than many of the photo editing programs that come in a box.

But no matter what they tell you, it darn sure isn’t free. I don’t believe that anything I’d ever need, want or use on the Internet is free.



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