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Unreadable Fine Print Lets Spyware Thrive

I have the same angry reaction to the installation of any unauthorized software on my computer as most of your readers ("The plot to hijack your computer," Cover Story, July 17). But surely the practice is legal, and it exists because no one has challenged the silly "license agreements" that are stuck in front of you during the installation process. The "agreement" appears in a hard-to-read window during installation. Even the most honest vendor gives you pages and pages of legalese, and buried in there somewhere is bound to be something any reasonable person would find objectionable. The only decent example I've seen recently is Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) "Genuine Advantage" license-checking program that arrived with my latest security updates. At least it popped up as a separate statement saying it was going to install a program that reported my license info and asked if that was O.K.

A better example is the rental-car agreement, where you have to initial an opt-in/out. Why don't computer vendors step up and make licensing something consumers can understand, and offer an opt-in/out of controversial parts?

Peter Thornton

Annapolis, Md.

Many companies have profited greatly by reduced costs and improved services using the Internet, making huge differences in their staffing. By sponsoring companies that produce pop-ups, spyware, and other infectious products, these same companies are destroying the market. I wonder if their marketing departments realize the long-term implications of such a strategy?

Robert Finkelstein

Reston, Va.

A recent BusinessWeek essay was provocatively titled "The phone companies still don't get it" (July 31). But the story is based on an antique stereotype, which simply doesn't work for Verizon (VZ). Verizon today is deploying the latest technology both for customers using our traditional telecommunications service or our wireless service. We have shed much of our old regulatory baggage, our workforce is younger than it used to be, and we've brought the spunk of MCI into our company. Verizon Wireless is the nation's leading wireless company. In short, we are on the move.

Verizon is unique in deploying a state-of-the-art technology -- fiber all the way to customers' homes and small businesses. This system exists only because Verizon led the industry to set standards and pushed manufacturers to build needed equipment. The scale of this project is tremendous -- 6 million homes and businesses in 16 states will be able to use our fiber-optic service, FiOS, this year. We are providing an unparalleled TV service on the system, and we've rolled out broadband data speeds as high as 50 Mbps. No other player in our industry is doing anything like that.

Verizon Wireless is deploying a wireless broadband technology that blows WiFi away. It works in trains and cars, at job sites and in offices not just parks and coffee shops. Customers can use it on their laptops, cell phones and other handheld devices. Again, no one is ahead of us or even close. Far from blocking wireless broadband, Verizon is the leader in deploying it.

No innovation? We are into games on computers and phones, music to the cell phone, and even beatboxing. An essay may be a personal point of view, but it should also reflect the facts. The facts show that Verizon very much gets it.

Eric Rabe

Vice-President, Verizon

Basking Ridge, N.J.

I'm no market guru, but if I subscribed to the Peter Lynch philosophy of investing, I'd place a big fat "short" on housing ("Housing: Where the market is really headed," Business Outlook, July 10). On my half-hour commute to work, I get a front-seat view of the market in Massachusetts, and it ain't pretty. More of my neighbors had for-sale signs on their front lawns this July 4th weekend than were flying the American flag. Housing prices seem to be holding, but no one seems to be making sales. What I do see are sellers swapping for-sale signs, believing the problem must be their Realtor. Eventually someone will blink, and I have a strong suspicion it won't be buyers.

Van Ritter

Wrentham, Mass.

There are straw man arguments, and then there's Anthony P. Carnevale's attack on my work (often with Lawrence Mishel) regarding the importance of education ("Hitting the books still pays off," Outside Shot, July 17). Mishel and I have never denied the existence nor the importance of the college wage premium; to the contrary, we've publicized it. Our critique has never been against the value of any individual seeking more education. Instead, it has been against a policy whose sole solution to every economic problem is "more skills." This is especially important once you recognize the significant ways in which the education wage premium has changed over the past decades.

First, the wage advantage of college over high school workers rose by about 14 percentage points in the 1980s, about half that in the 1990s, and has been flat since. Second -- and here Carnevale is wrong on the facts -- the real earnings of college- educated workers have been flat or falling since 2000. The Economic Report of the President, for example, shows a 5% loss in the annual earnings of college graduates from 2000 to 2004.

In no way do these facts suggest that one shouldn't go to college. In every way they suggest that factors such as offshoring, more narrow skill differentiation by companies, and weakness in certain sectors (e.g., information technology) have lessened demand for college-educated workers. Younger college-educated workers have had a particularly rough time in recent years, both in terms of fewer employment opportunities and declining real wages. To no small extent, a college degree is no longer insulation from the myriad forces that have been slowing the growth of living standards for the 70% of the workforce without college degrees.

Jared Bernstein

Economic Policy Institute


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