It must have seemed like a good idea to some marketing person at Belkin.
This company offers a "parental control" feature in it LAN router products
which, upon payment of a subscription fee, allow control over which sites
can be accessed. It would be nice (from Belkin's point of view) to be sure
that all customers are aware of the opportunity to buy this service. So
why not just redirect a random web connection every eight hours and have it
display an ad for the parental control service rather than the page the
user thought they were going to see?
Belkin thought this "feature" was not a particularly big deal. After all,
it can be turned off by changing a setting in the router configuration.
Or, if the user hits the "no thanks" button, a system owned by Belkin will
connect to the router over the net and turn off the feature for them.
Unless, of course, the router sits behind a firewall that might look
askance at connects to internal routers from the wider Internet.
This sort of episode demonstrates, again, why it is important to have our
gadgets powered by free software. Nobody should have to put up with a
router hijacking their HTTP connections to display advertisements at them.
Few of us want a router whose configuration can be silently changed via a
connection from the outside. And many of us would sure like to know what
other interesting "features" might have been included with such a product.
But, without the source, there is very little to be done. Bad (or
malicious) features cannot be fixed, and nobody can audit the code for any
other surprises that may be lurking within.
In the absence of source, there is only one feasible way to fix a problem
like Belkin's advertising feature: embarrass the manufacturer on the net
until they make a fix available. In this case, that approach appears to
have worked; Belkin has announced
that it will be releasing a firmware update which removes the
redirect feature. But we may never know what other features Belkin will
have worked into its products. Until our gadgets are powered by free
software, we will never really know what our appliances are doing and we
will lack the power to fix them.
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