There's a dark side to the program, though, that isn't nearly so friendly. While browsing an Internet-privacy newsgroup, Smith came across a posting from a zBubbles user who suspected it was snooping on him. The program supposedly monitored what users were doing online and discreetly reported back to Alexa.
OK, maybe it does sound a little paranoid. But last year over the Christmas holidays, Richard Smith, a Brookline, Mass., software entrepreneur and freelance computer investigator, became convinced his computer was spying on him. It began after Smith had downloaded onto his laptop a nifty program he found called zBubbles, which is supposed to help people shop online. A product of Amazon subsidiary Alexa, zBubbles does some helpful things. When you're surfing e-commerce web sites, it pops up and offers recommendations about products. And just like a good shopping pal, it even gives you comparative shopping advice about where you may be able to get a specific item cheaper.