Ask Jeeves Distributing Spyware to Children?
Super anti-spyware activist Ben Edelman called out Ask Jeeves in an old fashioned finger pointing today by posting some research on his site about Ask Jeeves running an ad campaign which targets children and influences them to download the Ask Jeeves Toolbar. “My new Ask Jeeves Toolbar Installs via Banner Ads at Kids Sites shows a misleading banner ad particularly likely to target kids. When users click on this banner, AJ neither shows nor references any license agreement. And AJ uses euphemisms like ‘accessible directly from your browser’ rather than explicitly admitting that it will install a web browser toolbar.”
Furthermore it seems that Ask Jeeves owned MyWay and My Search software has been finding questionable methods for installing itself on computers by targeting security holes on computers. Not only is Ask Jeeves installing their branded software using these methods, but also the software branded with recent Ask acquisitions of 3rd and 4th tier search engines. Whether Ask is doing this intentionally or spyware distributors (does that sound correct? how about “computer invaders”) are doing so in order to get a per download payment from Ask is still at question. However, Ask.com should be held responsible for the actions of their affiliates.
From Ben’s blog : Over the past six months, I’ve captured a series of videos showing Ask Jeeves’ MyWay and MySearch software installed through security holes — without notice, disclosure, or consent. For example, in a video I made on March 12, I received more than a dozen different programs including the Ask Jeeves MySearch toolbar — without me ever requesting anything, and without me ever clicking “Yes” or “Accept” in any dialog box. Warning: The video is 16+ minutes long. Security exploit occurs at 6:00, and Ask Jeeves MySearch software is first seen at 15:50. Video also shows installation of 180solutions, multiple programs from eXact Advertising, the IBIS WebSearch toolbar, PeopleOnPage, ShopAtHomeSelect, SurfSideKick, WindUpdates, and many more. The underlying network transmissions show that the security exploit at issue was syndicated through the targetnet.com ad network — Mamma Media, publicly-traded on Nasdaq Small Cap.
I’m surprised that Ask Jeeves allows these nonconsensual installations. Ask Jeeves is a publicly-traded company with a 10-digit valuation (slated to be acquired by InterActiveCorp for $1.85 billion). If Ask Jeeves staff made a serious effort to screen and supervise their distribution partners, they could prevent this kind of mess.