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News from the open access movement

Sunday, July 17, 2005

More on Trojan Horse PDFs

Don Fluckinger, Are Your PDFs Spying on You? PC Magazine, June 1, 2005. (Thanks to LawLibTech via Charles Bailey.)
Thank goodness the PDFs we download and pass around don't come impregnated with some tracking technology that is generating metrics information back at the server. At least, they didn't in the past. Toronto software company Remote Approach now offers Map-Bot, a tool to track PDF traffic, much as Web sites collect IP addresses and other data from visitors. Like Adobe Policy Server, Map-Bot can force users to be connected to the Web in order to read the documents. It can track who's e-mailing PDFs to whom and what they're reading—in real time. Though other companies such as Adobe offer more expensive and elaborate tracking software, Remote Approach's tool alone has the power to spread among the masses, with its simple, low-cost (starting at $9.95 a month) subscription-based service, administered over the Web....But the potential for the technology to tarnish PDFs' image is staggering....If Remote Approach's idea takes off, competitors with less innocent designs --such as collecting e-mail addresses-- could jump in beside them. All of a sudden, some PDFs we download could come with nasty little bots attached that can generate spam. Not all of them, just enough to give us pause --sort of the way we now look at e-mail attachments with a jaundiced eye, even when they come from well-meaning friends. Too much of this stuff, and PDFs will become a lead-generation device for commercial interests, and not a viable publishing platform. In other words, they will be vulnerable to the same problems as Web pages and e-mail, and suddenly not such a great value proposition. Let's not go there.

For background, see my Trojan Horse eprints from SOAN for May 2, 2005.