Get Your Do-Gooding Ass Off My Start Page

A few weeks back, geek-docent Azahar set up a start page for me on Netvibes, with a Twitter widget and blog feeds and like that, just to jump start me on the service. I find it very cool but this morning, when I logged on, an uninvited widget had moved in over night and was squatting on the home page just under the to-do list and the little notepad dingus — regaling me with a feed about all the wonderful things the World Community Grid had done lately (starting with the earthshaking news that it had taken down its Facebook page).Worse, all the content in my Washington Post headline widget had been replaced by the same feed in every tab.

Anyone else run across this?

I Googled this thing, and not a single result involved a complaint of anything like this kind of hijacking; most, beyond the project’s homepage, came from geek forums lauding the use of grid computing to do things like aid medical research, and discussing the ins and outs of installing the WCG software, which takes advantage of your computer’s idle time to run calculations on protein folding and the like and feed the results back to a master database.

It sounds utterly laudable and heart-stirring in a noble, orchestra-swelling-in-the-background way, but what the merry hell is it doing on my start page? It’s creepy, like coming downstairs in the morning and finding an opossum in your living room.

It’s just possible some sophisticated drive-by program or Trojan could insert this praiseworthy-sounding content hoping the Netvibes users who saw it would click a spoofed link (my anti-malware program is churning away on a deep scan as I write), but — well, you know how things like that usually look; misspellings, graphics that don’t quite match, grammar suggesting a cradle language far, far from English.

My instinctive hypothesis tends more toward the frequent problem I have with do-gooders. Quite a few people in this world have undertaken projects that we all would consider worth two bits, and some get carried away and get right up in your face to tell you how much you want to fork over your two bits. Alas, I’m not an ubergeek. Reading just a few of the search results from tech forums tells me I don’t know how much trouble I’d get into running WCG software on my computer, or whether I’d be able to untangle the mess it might make. What happened to you the last time someone said “It’s perfectly safe”?

I got rid of the uninvited Netvibes content without clicking on any links, and checked all the computer’s running processes to see if some protein was folding secretly in the background.  I don’t like squatter opossums.

Is this little stunt with the widgets supposed to trip me up into thinking I’ve already consented to work with this project, and did Netvibes wish it on me or did WCG come up with this little hijack idea on their own and why the fuck do I care if they took down their Facebook page?

I’d ask them, but the “Contact Us” fields on their homepage seem to assume you’re already a member. Ain’t not, not gonna.

Take your opossum and go home.

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7 thoughts on “Get Your Do-Gooding Ass Off My Start Page

  1. Maybe this will get an answer?

    I checked my private page as well as Nog’s and Victoria’s and nothing weird going on there. Very strange… though I’m quite happy to hear about people taking down their Facebook pages! 🙂

  2. Crikey, I have no idea what a Netvibes page is, or the World Community Grid. I’m all over the opossum, though, and from that I can extrapolate the rest with a fair degree of accuracy.

    The internet seems to be becoming the mother of assumptions – everyone assumes you want to join them and receive their nonsense and take part in their crap. And I’m against that.

    I’m impatiently awaiting the invention of a button on each website which – rather than allowing you to ‘like’ the content therein – will allow you to deliver a stinging slap to its host, should it impinge on one’s own stuff unnecessarily.

    • Ah, now I’m looking forward to the day when the saying “I’m all over the opossum” has at least as much currency as “jumping the shark.”

      Netvibes is a portal page that allows you to organize connections to sites and services you want to check frequently, like web mail and blogs — things like this have been around since the Net was cooked up, practically, but it’s an especially attractive one. If nothing like this happens again anyway.

  3. What’s especially cool about Netvibes is that you can access it from any computer and immediately have ALL YOUR STUFF there, without having to sign in to everything separately and remember passwords. Emails, blogs, websites, twitter, skype, feedreaders … all right there on one very handy page.

    Plus of course you can get widgets for daily Calvin & Hobbes, XKCD and ICHCheezburger…

    Meanwhile, Netvibes just answered my question on twitter…

    • Hm, we may never get a full explanation of what it means that it was “identified and fixed” — a genuine glitch or someone using the service to spam people? As long as it doesn’t come back.

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