When Online Marketing and Sales Sold Its Soul to the Devil

A few months ago, my computer was infected with a malware called Trovi, which caused browser redirects and forwarded my browsing history over the internet to someone else’s database. The infection proved stubborn because Trovi had infected both my Google+ account and the Skype installer for Windows. No matter how many times my anti-malware software removed Trovi, it came back every time I used the Google Chrome browser or installed Skype.

I ran the search term “Trovi” through search engines and found a wealth of what appeared to be consumer advocacy websites identifying the malware and proposing solutions to deal with it. Every one of those websites instructed me to download and install five or six different pieces of IT security software. This software was advertised as “FREE!” (in all caps with exclamation mark) but turned out to be trialware I would have been compelled to pay for after a free trial period. Needless to say, I didn’t do that. I just switched to Linux until Google had stopped bundling Trovi, although the Skype installer still appears to bundle it.

What was going on was obvious. Someone in IT security had had the bright idea to create software solutions for an as-yet-nonexistent malware and then entered into a business partnership with someone else who created the malware. Then, together, they created websites that disguised themselves as consumer advocacy but were in fact sales pitches for the software solutions. The goal of the entire thing was to create a market using the malware and then, through the pretense of trying to help people, get us to part with our money.

Some ethics-free members of our society would consider that a clever marketing idea. Others, me included, consider it tantamount to the Archangel Michael having a business deal with the devil. The very thought of IT security people partnering up with malware creators and then using the cover of consumer advocacy to do marketing is ethically repulsive and revolting to me–even if it’s totally within the limits of the law.

This kind of Satanic “cleverness” on the part of online sales and marketing people is not unique to the Trovi consortium. On nearly every website trying to sell goods or services for money, you find a variety of lawful but deceptive and manipulative practices designed to pick ypur pocket while protecting the website owner from legal liability. Online marketing and sales increasingly relies on deception and deliberately confusing website visitors. The dishonesty of online marketing and sales had reached epidemic levels.

Even within the context of today’s weaselly and dishonest online marketing and sales, however, Trovi was a new low that should provoke outrage. I thought it deserved documenting here.

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5 thoughts on “When Online Marketing and Sales Sold Its Soul to the Devil

  1. Oh, he fun joys I can state about this mess! I used to co-habitate with someone who surfed just about every site available. Either looking for information to stash away on their hard drive, for free games, music, what ever. Their computer – brand new – wound up bogged down with malware within a few months. They had been to school for IT, so happily went back out on the net to find solutions. Too many times, they would run into something similar to what you did – there WAS a fix, but it was trial ware. We got lucky, in that the person knew how to decipher root scans, find and eliminate the root files, and get things running properly again.

    Then my computer got hit despite running a 3 layer defense – Mcaffee, adaware, and threatfire. A good combination in most instances. Not sure if something jumped across our primitive network, or if I just happened to get that one-in-a-thousand chance on the bad roulette wheel. But, no matter what we did, the root files refused to stay gone. We’d uninstall the program it created, blast out the root files (there were many, and it could take an hour or more to find them all), and restart. And, there was the dumb thing… again.

    They finally managed to get rid of it, how I am not certain. It was while I was at work. But during the irritating time we were dealing with the problem, I don’t remember how many sites we ran into that had a “free” PC fix that wasn’t free. Download, and scan? Yeah. That was free – you were just downloading another trojan! About the only “honest” site we ever found was Mcaffee’s “PC Housecall”. The problem was that this had slid through Mcafee in the first place, so it never showed up on that scan either.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story. What you’re actually talking about, in terms of online marketing, is a milder version of what my blog post describes. Everyone with half a brain and any internet experience knows that a website that advertises a product as “free” is actually selling it for money, and if it advertises that product as “FREE!” (complete with all caps and exclamation mark) then it costs a whole pile of money more than it’s worth. That’s part of marketing being ethics-free and, in my personal view, generally scummy. But what I described, where IT security experts actually team up with malware creators in order to create a market for their products, is a whole order of magnitude worse, and takes marketing into the realm of the demonically evil.

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    1. I’m honored to meet someone working in the business world who still has the capacity to be outraged when people’s behavior is outrageous. Too many people have become blase about other people’s bad ethics. Maybe I’ll make a post about that next, but I want to avoid being the cliche old fart who rants about how things were better Back in The Day. If you want to make a guest post on this subject from the perspective of someone who’s on the inside of industry, feel free to email me.

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