Two years ago, I wrote about attending the Hard Assets Conference in San Francisco. This is a yearly investment conference that focuses on precious metals, mining, oil, and gas. This year, I again attended the conference at the downtown San Francisco Marriott Hotel. The carnival atmosphere was notably toned down compared to past years. With the world stock markets in decline and the general economy heading into a recession, there was little to celebrate among the exhibitors.
But actually, the conference itself is not the topic of this post. I previously mentioned that I discovered a new trend in freebies. A few companies were offering free promotional USB flash drives. For those who are not familiar with the technology, a USB (Universal Serial Bus) flash drive is a portable computer memory that plugs into a computer USB port and can be used like a miniature hard disk. USB Flash drives are also known as thumb drives, and often cost less than $10 for a 2GB unit at places like Micro Center.
Conference exhibitors load up these USB flash drives with information about their companies: annual reports, company press releases, PowerPoint slides, etc. The casing of each USB flash memory is printed with the company logo, and it is unmistakably a freebie. In general, a flash drive can be reused for storing pictures, MP3s, documents, etc. You only need to delete the existing data, or just re-format the drive to make room for your own files.
I came across a new type of flash drive at the conference. This one is a 1GB drive with two partitions on it meaning that it shows up as two different drives when you plug it into a computer. I didn't even know it was possible to partition a flash drive! The first partition is identified by the computer as a CD ROM drive, and it contains an Autorun script that loads up a web browser and automatically sends you to the advertiser's website. The second partition looks and behaves like a regular USB flash drive.
My expectation was that after viewing the information on the USB flash drive, the memory could be formatted and re-used for whatever purpose I wanted. The problem is that after I tried to reformat the flash drive, the CD ROM partition with its Autorun file remained intact. In other words, it always loads up the company's website, even after deleting all the data or reformatting.
I searched the Internet for some information on this type of USB flash memory, but I have not found a way to delete or permanently disable the Autorun feature on this USB flash drive. I also speculate that information from my computer could be automatically transmitted to that company's website. That is both an annoying and disturbing though.
Has anybody seen this new kind of flash drive? Do you have more information or thoughts about it?
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