IAC toolbars — exposed again

By | February 1, 2013
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You may not know the name IAC, but we’re betting you recognize the names Ask.com, FunWebProducts, Ask Toolbar, and SmileyCentral. They’re all products of Interactive Corporation which is IAC. And we’ve long been fighting against this corporate parasite because IAC makes a lot of money by deceiving and tricking computer users, just like you.

They promise you everything and everything they promise you is free – or so they say. Is it really free? No. You pay for it. You pay for it in lost privacy, poor computer performance, and sometimes even damaged Windows systems. Once installed on your computer, IAC’s bundle of toolbars and other software make hundreds of changes to your Windows computer, not to mention changing your default search engine, and piggybacking on your preferred search engines.

We’ve long warned our readers about FunWebProducts and all things IAC. And today, we received permission from a very respected Internet attorney and researcher, Ben Edelman, to share the results of some of his research into the deceptive practices of IAC with you. We consider Ben Edelman an ally and a friend in our fight against badware and software installation by deception. The excerpts in this article were taken from an article written by Ben Edelman called “IAC Toolbars and Traffic Arbitrage in 2013”. We encourage you to read the entire article on his site.

Ben Edelman writes:

“IAC Toolbar Installation

IAC’s search toolbar business is grounded in placing IAC toolbars on as many computers as possible. To that end, IAC offers 50+ different toolbars with a variety of branding — Webfetti (“free Facebook graphics”), Guffins (“virtual pet games”), religious toolbars of multiple forms (Know the Bible, Daily Bible Guide, Daily Jewish Guide), screensavers, games, and more. One might reasonably ask: Why would a user want such a toolbar?

IAC ad promises “free online television” but actually merely links to material already on the web; promises an “app” but actually provides a search toolbar.

The Television Fanatic toolbar is instructive. IAC promotes this toolbar with search ads that promise “free online television” and “turn your computer into a TV watch full TV episode w free app.” It sounds like an attractive deal — many users would relish the ability to watch free live broadcast television on an ordinary computer, and it would not be surprising if such a service required downloading some sort of desktop application or browser plug-in. But in fact Television Fanatic offers nothing of the sort. To the extent that Television Fanatic offers the “free online television” promised in the ad, it only links to ordinary video content already provided by others. (For example, I clicked the toolbar’s “ABC” link and was taken to http://abc.go.com/watch/ — an ordinary ABC link equally available to users without Television Fanatic. That’s a far cry from IAC’s promise of special access to premium material…”

IAC will go to any length to entice and trick unwitting or un-savvy computer users into installing its badware bundles which include a variety of toolbars and questionable programs. It’s bad enough that IAC deceives with phony promises, but it stoops even lower by using faith and religion to lure even more unsuspecting users.

Ben Edelman continues:

“…So too for DailyBibleGuide. In a Q1 2011 earnings call, IAC CEO Greg Blatt touted the DailyBibleGuide toolbar as a new product IAC is particularly proud of. But a Google search results for “DailyBibleGuide” include a page advising “do not download Dailybiblestudy, Dailybibleguide, or Knowthebible extension.” There and elsewhere, users seem surprised to receive IAC’s toolbars. Reading users’ complaints, it seems their confusion ultimately results from IAC’s decision to deliver bible trivia via a toolbar. After all, such material would more naturally be delivered via a web page, email newsletter, or perhaps RSS feed. IAC chose the odd strategy of toolbar-based delivery not because it was genuinely what users wanted, but because this is the format IAC can best monetize. No wonder users systematically end up disappointed…”

Nothing like taking advantage of people of faith, right? But wait! They stoop even lower — they target kids.

Mr. Edelman writes:

“…Meanwhile, IAC’s Guffins toolbar distinctively targets kids. IAC promotes Guffins via search ads for terms like “virtual pet”, and the resulting ad says Guffins offers “puppy, cats, bunny, dragons & more” which a user can “feed, play, [and] care for.” The landing page features four animated animals with oversized faces and overstated features, distinctively attractive to children. Under COPPA factors or any intuitive analysis, IAC clearly targets kids. Indeed, ad tracking service iSpionage reports Guffins ads touting “Free Kids Games Download”, “Free Kids Computer Games”, “Play Kids Games Online”, and more — explicitly inviting children to install Guffins. Of course kids are ill-equipped to evaluate IAC’s offer — less likely to notice IAC’s disclosures of an included toolbar, less likely to understand what a search toolbar even is, and less able to evaluate the wisdom of installing such a toolbar in exchange for games…”

Stooping to using religion to goad users into installing their toolbars, pandering ‘free’ games to kids? IAC seems to have no shame, as long as they keep the money rolling in, nothing else seems to matter.

And the rich get richer. Mr. Edelman points out that IAC’s web properties rank among the Internet’s most popular:

“…By all indications, a huge number of users are running IAC toolbars. The IAC toolbars discussed in this section all send users to mywebsearch.com, a site users are unlikely to visit except if sent there by an IAC toolbar. Alexa reports that mywebsearch.com is the #41 most popular site in the US and #71 worldwide — more popular than Instagram, Flickr, Pandora, and Hulu…”

It seems IAC earns its money the new-fashioned way, by tricking and deceiving people. It’s unfathomable to us that IAC’s web property “MyWebSearch” is more popular than Instagram, Flickr, Pandora and Hulu. Who uses MyWebSearch on purpose? Virtually no one. Most all of the traffic that flows to MyWebSearch comes from the toolbars which are, for the most part, installed on people’s computers without their knowledge or informed consent. Most of these toolbars are installed via bundled software installations, most all of which are freeware program.

But IAC has partners too, some very successful partners, that help them spread IAC toolbars. Let’s take Oracle and it’s Java updates for example. Mr. Edelman writes:

“…The Special Problems of IAC Ask Toolbar Installed by Oracle’s Java Updates

Java security update installs Ask Toolbar by default — a single click in a multi-step installer.

Ongoing Oracle Java updates also install the IAC Ask Toolbar. I discuss these installations in this separate section because they raise concerns somewhat different from the IAC toolbars discussed above. I see five key problems with Oracle Java updates that install IAC toolbars:

First, as Ed Bott noted last week, the “Install the Ask Toolbar” checkbox is prechecked, so users can install the Ask toolbar with a single click on the “Next” button. Accidental installations are particularly likely because the Ask installation prompt is step three of five-screen installation process. When installing myriad software updates, it’s easy to get into a routine of repeatedly clicking Next to finish the process as quickly as possible. But in this case, just clicking Next yields the installation of Ask’s toolbar.

Second, although the Ask installation prompt does not show a “focus” (a highlighted button designated as the default if a user presses enter), the Next button actually has focus. In testing, I found that pressing the enter or spacebar keys has the same effect as clicking “Next.” Thus, a single press of either of the two largest keys on the keyboard, with nothing more, is interpreted as consent to install Ask. That’s much too low a bar — far from the affirmative indication of consent that Google rules and FTC caselaw call for.

Third, in a piece posted today, Ed Bott finds Oracle and IAC intentionally delaying the installation of the Ask Toolbar by fully ten minutes. This delay undermines accountability, especially for sophisticated users. Consider a user who mistakenly clicks Next (or presses enter or spacebar) to install Ask Toolbar, but immediately realizes the mistake and seeks to clean his computer. The natural strategy is to visit Control Panel – Programs and Features to activate the Ask uninstaller. But a user who immediately checks that location will find no listing for the Ask Toolbar: The uninstaller does not appear until the Ask install finishes after the intentional ten minute delay. Of course even sophisticated users have no reason or ability to know about this delay. Instead, a sophisticated user would conclude that he somehow did not install Ask Toolbar after all — and only later will the user notice and, perhaps, proceed with uninstall…”

“…Finally, the Java update is only needed as a result of a serious security flaw in Java. It is troubling to see Oracle profit from this security flaw by using a security update as an opportunity to push users to install extra advertising software. Java’s many security problems make bundled installs all the worse: I’ve received a new Ask installation prompts with each of Java’s many security updates. (Ed Bott counts 11 over the last 18 months.) Even if the user had declined IAC’s offer on half a dozen prior requests, Oracle persists on asking — and a single slip-up, just one click or keystroke on the tenth request, will nonetheless deliver Ask’s toolbar.

A security update should never serve as an opportunity to push additional software. As Oracle knows all too well from its recent security problems, users urgently need software updates to fix serious vulnerabilities. By bundling advertising software with security updates, Oracle teaches users to distrust security updates, deterring users from installing updates from both Oracle and others. Meanwhile, by making the update process slower and more intrusive, Oracle reduces the likelihood that users will successfully patch their computers. Instead, Oracle should make the update process as quick and easy as possible — eliminating unnecessary steps and showing users that security updates are quick and trouble-free…”

Oracle has to be held accountable in the delayed installation deception. After all, it’s installed with their Java updates, right? And pushing a toolbar due to a security update made necessary by Oracles’ own security problems, is unconscionable. Oracle is a multi-billion dollar corporation. Do they really need to monetize their Java updates? Are they really that greedy? Apparently so. It appears Oracle even reaps profits from their own security guffaws.

No matter how much we or others expose IAC and their toolbars and programs, nothing stops the IAC leviathan..

Please read the entire article by Ben Edelman entitled “IAC Toolbars and Traffic Arbitrage in 2013”. It exposes even more of IAC’s questionable products and illustrates how a bottom feeder like IAC has succeeded by tricking and deceiving users.

Who in the world would anyone ever install anything IAC makes on purpose? Not us. Would you?

(Both of us would like to thank Ben Edelman for allowing us to use excerpts from his fascinating and informative article about IAC. Thanks, Ben!)


4 thoughts on “IAC toolbars — exposed again

  1. Nancy Wainwright

    I am careful to always un check this option BUT…when updating a program I love, REVO Uninstaller, even though I uncheck ASK, I find the ASK search function has been installed anyway and I must use REVO to uninstall it! Now this is always my first operation after updating REVO

  2. Mae

    I’ve noticed that ask.com also comes up in a google search before the desired website example
    google search – marykay.ca
    www .ask .com /Mary +Kay+In+Touch+Log+In so we have to read carefully to make sure we don’t click on the wrong one

  3. Joan

    The priceless information Cloudeight continues to provide its visiting readers and members is really profound. I have mentioned before that to find a web site that provides all Cloudeight does are very few and looking for these precious needles in a haystack can prove unbelievably time consuming but also an exercise in futility. EB and TC have some fantastic friends, but not all are seeing the need to help support them. Conversely, many that can are doing so. These are difficult times for many to help, but for those who can, hopefully you will. I am a day late for my own commitment of a 2nd installment of support. We must pull together to keep this great web site going and to flourish. Bless all who see their dilema.

  4. Sally

    I decided earlier in the week that it would be nice to have a daily Bible verse to start my a.m. When I went to install it, I saw that I had to agree to accept this toolbar. Thanks to all your warnings, I cancelled and went to a different site. Thank you so much for all I’ve learned
    over the years, Sally T


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