What noise does your phone make?
Modern smartphones include innumerable capabilities, but one feature that we all crave is the ability to control what noises come out of the things. We want custom ringtones. If these little snippets of software cost nothing, then we like them even better. Hundreds of thousands of web sites offer access to virtually every sound imaginable.
A typical ringtone is a harmless little audio file that downloads quickly and installs easily. Digital cell phone service providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, want their customers to be happy, but they also want to make a buck off of each of us. To that end, some carriers will permit their users to install ringtones at no cost, but some make it a little more challenging.
When we have a few minutes to spare, we tend to go searching for free stuff online. Search engines such as Google and Yahoo are constantly fielding requests for "free ringtones" and "free ringtone downloads." Entrepreneurial web entrepreneurs want to help us find that perfect audio clip to customize our phone and match our current mood. We have multiple options for phone cases, phone wallpaper, and phone plans, why not ringtones as well?
How free is free?
Many internet sites offer products and services that are free. In the case of downloading ring tones, how much does absolutely free actually cost? A web site requires financial resources to stay in business.
Web hosting costs money. Web design sometimes costs money. In order to maintain a steady flow of operating capital, a web entrepreneur must either sell advertising or sell something else. A site festooned with advertising is not by definition a bad thing: the ads help to defray the costs of keeping the pages published.
These little chunks of software may be safe to 'play' each time a call comes in, but be careful how you obtain them. The word 'free' gets our blood pumping and our heart racing. We anxiously and carelessly click on 'free' links all the time, but how can we be sure?
What are you willing to give up?
One relatively simple ploy exercised by many co-called free websites is offering a ringtone in exchange for your phone number. Some sites promise access to treasure troves of software guaranteed to work with your phone and impress your friends.
Should users be willing to reveal telephone numbers to an unknown website? It amounts to exposing something that has value to advertisers: it will probably end up in a database that will end up for sale. phone users who pay for minutes may find themselves receiving undesirable voice calls and text messages from unsolicited sources. Once added to a database, it's impossible to extricate a phone number.
Contact lists are bought and sold via the Internet all the time. Don't think for one nanosecond that all solicitors are bound by laws or morality. One company may promise immediate deletion from their database, but 10 other companies may be adding the number at the same time. Text messages that are virtually untraceable can be sent from the Internet. Call centers operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to leverage all the phone numbers voluntarily revealed in exchange for 'free' stuff.
What are you willing to download?
Some web sites thoughtfully avoid asking for your phone number, instead offering to send you a small file that must be executed (run) on your computer. Such ostensibly harmless software is not actually a ringtone: rather it is an binary program. It's impossible to survey every version of these little gems, but common computer wisdom asserts that viruses, spyware, and malware are distributed this way.
If a web entrepreneur can convince a visitor to download and execute a program, they can potentially install anything on the host computer. Most users are logged in with administrative permissions, at least on Windows-based computers. Access to free ringtones may be one reward, but undesirable side-effects may also appear. A downloaded program running with administrative permissions has complete control of the computer and can make any change or install any program whatsoever.
To be fair, this downloaded program may install a required interface to your cell phone. It may be a necessary tool for transferring ringtones from your hard drive to your communication device. On the other hand, most modern phones happily accept audio files in native formats, such as .WAV, or .MP3: there is little need for an intermediate hunk of code that must be accepted from a web site that has not been properly vetted.