I recently read an article in Wired (October 2011 issue – The scariest computer scam – p.112 – not online yet). The article describes the empire built by 2 “masters of social engineering”. Their business: getting you to pay for fake antivirus softwares by displaying pop-up ads on your favourite websites. You know, the kind of pop-up that says your computer is infected and you absolutely need to buy an antivirus. Of course the antivirus is not only expensive but also continues to display other pop-up ads to make you buy some other softwares.
All this article explaines how these guys used our fears (“What if I lose my precious files I have never backed up?”, “What if a virus ‘burns’ my hard drive?”) to become millionaires. They are now fugitives chased by Interpol, because it’s morally wrong to build a business on fear (or something like that). Ironically the Wired article finishes with a Symantec-Norton Security “Protect You Identity, You Only Have One” triple page ad.
What I don’t understand is that we seem to be blind to how companies like Symantec Norton – actually ride on our fears every day. I don’t want to make a list but I am sure you have several examples of ads using this strategy (lawyers, health care, insurance, computer security, weight pills, etc..). I can think of at least 5 examples I saw in the past days without thinking hard.
The Wired ‘scariest scam’ article takes an example pointing these people as bad guys when there are countless businesses involved in this business. Sure, their tactics were really extreme and strong but I can’t see any difference with Norton (who promised to protect one of my old windows NT4 server several years ago and actually completely slowed it down and did not detect infected files which were stored on this server).
I also can’t see any difference with TV news channels like CNN or Fox News. When I first traveled to American airports, the fact that this kind of TV channel induced fear in my brain made me really willing the security guy to check me for unauthorized materials. I was even reassured. Now I saw the same thing in France when I went back last May. I just think you need to be away or step back to realize french channel (TF1 for example) are applying the same tactics.
Around one year ago I stopped watching the news (I barely watch any TV channel at all), I stopped reading everyday newspapers. And I started to feel better. It’s not a sensation quick to detect but after a while you realize that you are not so scared.
You are not scared to lose your job when you don’t read everyday that the economy is bad.
You are not scared of terrorism when you don’t know about it.
You are not scared of this new super flu virus from I-dont-know-where when you don’t know about it.
You are not scared of burglary when you don’t pay attention to crime stats.
You are not scared of being different when you don’t try to wear the same clothes as everybody does.
We talked about that with a friend the other day. He lived near Paris when he was a teenager and told me that there were usually some small-time gangsters who were trying to steal people on his train. When he looked at who was being robbed: they were always people who were displaying their fear, looking down, etc… If you don’t pay attention to those so-called gangsters or if you look at them in the eyes, they won’t do anything to you. If they were so strong they would not be trying to steal from people in a train, instead they would be Tony Soprano or whoever big time mafia guy. They are only looking for scared people because they know these people would be easy to steal from.
Do we need a doctorate in social science to figure that scare media is exactly doing the same thing? Why can’t we figure that if we stop answering by being scared we will more free? It seems so obvious.
Next time you are scared, ask yourself: where does that fear come from? For example: I am scared of being attacked in the street at night. Why? Because of the strangely bad reputation our neighbourhood has. But I walked home after going to pubs many times and actually never see anybody who might frighten me for real. Everything I have been told was by people who actually never lived in this neighbourhood. Conclusion: they are not really reliable.
I am not telling you to not be scared at all. It’s perfectly sane to check the road before you cross because you are scared of being hit by a car. The question is to ask yourself what is the source of the fear. When I cross the street, I remember the source (thank you Mom for having taught me to look left and right) is reliable, and it makes sense.
Question the source and ask yourself if you trust it.
Now that I have stopped reading everyday newspaper, I realize I don’t trust them. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, all the media industry is not evil (hey… I read Wired for example), just remember to question it. Try to stop reading newspaper for a month, come back here and tell me about it. Or if you already stopped listening to another non trusted source, share your story in the comment section.
Next time you see an obvious scare media tactic, just make fun of it, show people how stupid it is, how obnoxious the marketing is. We don’t need this. Seriously.
Let’s just trust a little more in ourselves.
We are the best judges.