Saturday, September 5, 2009

Proper Grammar for Spyware Providers

I logged in this morning to find my laptop overrun with spyware. My desktop pic of the Oregon coast was gone. In its place was an unobtrusive "YOUR COMPUTER IS INFECTED!" jpeg. While I was puzzling that out, the first of hundreds of popups opened telling me my computer was overwhelmed with spyware, and if I'd just click here, Windows would download the latest, best, most up-to-datest antivirus spyware-throttling bit of digital badassery available.
My computer had been sacked by a rogue antivirus program, Advanced Virus Remover. It's a type of program invades and compromises any system it can get into, and then prevents you from doing anything -- like opening programs or trying to delete it -- until you agree to buy its services. It's essentially a digital mob protection racket. Attempts to remove the program or run my antispyware programs resulted in the Blue Screen of Death.
I managed to expunge the program from my laptop after about an hour -- big shout out to the Malwarebytes Anti-Malware folks -- but not before I'd carefully written down every popup message Advanced Virus Remover threw up at me. See, these rogue programs usually try to camouflage themselves as part of the Windows operating system, to blend in so their messages and prompts appear to be sent by the computer itself. But no one would ever fall for that, because the use of grammar in Advanced Virus Remover used was so stunningly, embarrassingly poor.
I copied down every popup and alert and emailed corrected versions back to the company. Here is the email I sent:
Hi there.
I woke up this morning to find your software buried in my operating system. It took me over an hour to remove it while your program kept offering to protect me from software just like yours. Here's a hint for your next upgraded version: If you're going to try to pass yourself off as a legitimate warning system that's part of Windows, please please please use correct grammar. As a writer by trade and a former English and writing tutor, I've taken the liberty to correct the grammar in your popups and alerts.
Here they are, in increasing degree of grammatical crime:
Proactive system found several active vulnerabilities on your computer.
Please read the following instructions before you continue.
Your system is at risk of being damaged by existing viruses- This can lead to PC freezes, crashes, erratic behavior, and data loss. Please run virus removal tool to protect your system.
"Vulnerables" is not a word. The noun version of "vulnerable" is "vulnerability." This wouldn't be so glaring a mistake if you hadn't used it correctly in the very next sentence.
The next sentence has no article. Which proactive system found the several active vulnerabilities? Was it one of many ("a"), or the only one ("the")? Or did you mean to say there was more than one system ("proactive systems"), which would preclude the need for an article?
Fourth sentence: you cannot end a sentence with a hyphen. Use a period or exclamation point. If you were trying to connect two independent clauses with a dash, use an em dash (--) instead of a hyphen (-), and don't capitalize the first letter of the second clause.
The last sentence also has no article. It should read "Please run a virus removal tool" or "Please run virus removal tools".
Click here to protect your computer from spyware!
Your computer is infected! Windows has detected spyware infection!It is recommended to use special antispyware tools to prevent data loss. Windows will now download and install the most up-to-date antispyware for you.
I'm detecting a pattern of article misuse. The third sentence should read "Windows has detected a spyware infection or "Windows has detected an infection of spyware." This is a situation where the definite article would not work -- you wouldn't say "Windows has detected the infection" unless it were the only spyware infection ever to have occurred.
Also, please note how I have just correctly demonstrated the correct way to separate independent clauses with a dash.
Put a space between "infection!" and "It". A basic proofread would have caught that. If your sales model is dependent on impersonating a Windows warning message, at least run Spell Check before you send it out.
Warning! New version of databases is available! Would you like to update them right now?
The second sentence should read "new versions of the databases are available." "A new version of the databases is available" does not work because the object of the third sentence, "them", is plural -- thus, the subject of the preceding sentence, "version", must also be plural. Otherwise the third sentence would read "Would you like to update it right now?".
Also ... why are you attracting my attention with "Warning!"? A warning is something that alerts people to danger. And yet you're using it to sell me an update of your program. That's like saying "Warning! The next ten shoppers will receive free ice cream!" You wouldn't be able to give away that ice cream, my friend.
Intercepting programs that may compromise your privacy and harm your systems have been detected on your PC. It` s highly recommended you scan your PC right now.
If you delete "intercepting," then the sentence works. But "intercepting" is a gerund -- a verbal noun with an -ing ending -- which makes the gerund phrase "Intercepting programs that may compromise your privacy and harm your systems" the subject of the sentence. That subject is singular, so if you change the rest of the sentence to "has been detected on your PC", the sentence technically will be grammatically correct, though it still won't make a lick of sense. That sentence essentially would mean "the act of intercepting programs ... has been detected on your PC."
Additionally, the sentence is passive. The programs, or the act of intercepting programs, has been detected. By whom? Passive sentences are used to disguise the agent, that is, the doer of the action. But wouldn't you want to make it clear that your program is the one doing the detecting? An active version of this sentence with the implied subject would read "Our software [subject] detects [active verb] programs [object] that may compromise your security blah blah blah."
As for the botching of "it's" ... Wow. Just wow. This ( ' ) is an apostrophe, which is sued either in contractions or to denote possession. This ( ` ) is an acute accent, a diacritic mark found in languages that use the Latin, Greek, or Cyrillic alphabets. It indicates pronunciation and stress on a given vowel. I assume you meant to use an apostrophe, since they look so similar, but I can't be certain, as they're pretty much on opposite ends of the keyboard.
And finally:
Timely update anti-virus databases helps you find and destroy a new viruses. Otherwise, you expose yourself to risks.
Your grammar makes baby Jesus cry.
What are you trying to tell me? "A timely update of your anti-virus database will help you find and destroy new viruses?" or "Timely updating anti-virus databases helps you find and destroy a new virus?" Or are you attempting an if/then conditional statement? "If you update your antivirus databases in a timely fashion, then it will help you find and destroy new viruses?" I get the gist of all of these, but your syntax makes my brain hurt. Hell yes, I'm exposing myself to risks -- risks like a bad grammar induced aneurysm.
Thank you for your time. I trust your next version of Advanced Virus Remover will be grammatically sound.

Matt Vancil
Feel free to send your own fan mail to the folks at Advanced Virus Remover: I'm sure they'd love to hear from you.


Katie said...

You are my hero. Seriously.

(Also, sorry about your computer woes).

Cindy said...


Pastor Erik said...

You have done a great service to the interwebs. I sincerely hope you take on Nigerian spammers next.

Will said...

I got the same virus. The lack of definite articles in the popups led me to believe the virus creators are Russian. The grammar is bad, but if you read the messages aloud in a Russian accent, it sounds better.