Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Crystal Ball: A.T. I.D.

As you can tell I am a big Science Fiction fan. I am also a person who gets to see and play with a lot of technology for a living. And sometimes my day job gives me the time to do some speculation or crazy bouts of thought on "proof of concept" items. A few articles recently got me to thinking on a bus ride home. What if technologies by the new Google/Double Click, Adobe and some unscrupulous individuals used web tools to not only detect your Assistive Technology.. but taylor their content in a manner that could take advantage of your vision loss? Where I am going with this is that detecting AT could be a good and a bad thing.

The good thing of course comes in with better navigation or less dynamic content delivery from a site that is usually nefarious for mouse overs, dynamic pull down menus or plain Flash Video on just about every control imaginable. The site detects your Screen Reader and adjusts the content to become more AT friendly by providing "Skip Navigation" or nothing but links and text for all information. I would rather that good web design provide one site for all, however, I can see some in Web Development opt for this option even if there is a possibility for information discrimination. I mean what if there are two sets of content available and one of these sets isn't updated for the AT users. That example is kind of far fetched I know because auto population should take care of both sets of content. But think of it like a restaurant who doesn't always update the prices on their Braille menus. A "text only" site that doesn't always reflect the "special of the week" flash banner on the main page does still occasionally happen every now and then.

There is naturally a darker side to this technology as well. Perhaps someone who is losing their vision performs a search for Screen Magnification. Someone out their Google Bombs their *free* Screen Magnifier. But along with this *free* software comes a little keylogger or other Malicious tool for ferrying back info to these, for right now, imagined foes. Since the largest growing audience of Assistive Technology users are older beginner level computer users, they ,might not notice a program loaded in the background. Or, as I have seen in some cases, flashback to the days of Gator, they know there is something wrong but they do not have the skills to remove the software in question. Very rarely do these types of users research the software before installing it and like several of us they almost never read a ULA.

Of course Spyware, Malware, Bloatware and Grayware have been around for a long time now. And generally the emphasis has been for these software writers to target the gangs of people looking for free games or productivity tools. However, with more and more free AT programs coming onto the scene I worry that we may one day have to police our own Blind communities in order for us to know who is wearing the white, black and gray hats amongst these alternatives.  

Here is the article that got me thinking about Screen Reader detection.

http://www.paciellogroup.com/blog/?p=61

And here is an article that chronicles the history of Grayware from Ars Technica.

http://arstechnica.com/guides/tweaks/detecting-and-fighting-greyware.ars

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