Do you have a license to drive that browser?

Al's biggest spyware problem is his stepdaughter. The only way to earn her respect is with a dose of tough love.

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Internet license

Published by Al, Port Alberni, Canada

I'm a 57-year-old retired truck driver with three stepdaughters, two of whom don't think the old man knows a thing about computers. Little do they know that I have a BA in computer science and can run circles around all of their friends. One time, the oldest girl's computer got so clogged up it would freeze, and the only way out was to hard-boot it. I cleaned it up, but there was so much damage done to the OS that I had to reformat the drive and do a fresh install of XP. I tried to save as much as I could of her pictures and music, but even that was hopeless. When I gave her back the computer, all she did was complain about the lost pictures and say I didn't know what I was doing.

Well, the months went by, and of course the stepdaughter didn't heed my warnings about cleaning up after herself on the computer. Her new boyfriend (who thought he knew everything about everything) was, get this, a truck driver with a tenth-grade education. He told her she didn't have to do anything to the computer, as his laptop had been running for over two years without him cleaning anything.

A few months went by and I got a call that the laptop and the desktop don't work at all. I told them they should take the hardware to Staples or one of the computer shops in town. A couple days later, she called her mom, complaining that it's too expensive to take the computer to a shop. Well, I left my stepdaughter and her boyfriend to their own devices for about a month or so. Eventually, both their computers stopped working completely and when they brought them to me, I made the two sign a waiver the same as any customer has to sign.

The laptop was in such bad condition it needed the hard drive replaced and a total reinstall of the OS. This time I took my time about working on their computers and told them that the paying customers come first before the gratis jobs. I delayed returning their computers for two weeks and when I finally did, they were singing a different song. I also told them that from now on only the stepdaughter gets her computer fixed for free, but her boyfriend and other friends will have to pay full price. There is a different air of respect for the old, overeducated retired truck driver now.

Editor's response

It's only fair that Al charge his stepdaughter's acquaintances and romantic interests for his time and labor. Fixing a virus-rotted machine can take plenty of both. If Al hadn't been able to win his stepdaughters' respect by withholding assistance, he ought to have considered charging her a share, too. It's incredible how a little financial obligation can renew a person's interest in maintaining their property.

Here's an idea from Nick, from Morgan City, Louisiana, who wishes users had to qualify for a license to get online. "It's the "superhighway" isn't it?" he writes. "So why not require a license on the basis of common sense? If you get infected so many times, then you get your license suspended and you can't use the Internet."

While we don't dispense licenses, CNET does offer a range of free online security classes where you can direct your friends and family for learning the basics of protecting themselves. As the old saying goes, "Fix a stepdaughter's computer and you eradicate her malware for a day. Teach a stepdaughter to fix her own computer, and it's her problem." Or something like that. Safe surfing!

Got your own spyware horror story? Share it with us.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.