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We Ask Ask Why

I don't know about you but I'm becoming concerned about "brand name" companies using us (meaning you and me) as pawns in order to fill their already overflowing coffers with more gold. Recently, I read an article about McDonald's (Japan) and Coca-Cola (Japan) giving away MP3 players, which were pre-infected with spyware. And this wasn't the ordinary run-of-the mill spyware either, it was stealing passwords/usernames. But, when they were found out, McDonald's (Japan) and Coca-Cola (Japan) immediately apologized and claimed innocence. Are we supposed to think that these huge corporations are so stupid they don't check things out first? But what other conclusions can one draw from this? Just because someone or some company is awash in cash doesn't necessarily mean they're smart.

Which leads seamlessly to the topic of today's rant.

Almost eighteen months ago we published a rant called "Things We'd Like To Ask Jeeves". In it, we pointed out that Ask Jeeves (IAC Corp.) was targeting kids with what we thought was inappropriate content. As if that wasn't enough, we pointed out that Ask Jeeves (IAC Corp) was not being truthful when they specifically state that their toolbar contained "no adware and no spyware". We showed screen shots of advertising appearing in their "SmileyCentral" program interface; we showed how their toolbar manipulated users' search results by injecting's customers' advertising directly into the search results of other search engines. And that alone, made Ask's toolbar a browser/search engine hijacker.

That was then and this is now. Since then, IAC/ ditched its cutesy butler trademark and is inundating the airwaves and Web with advertising promoting its search engine "" . Buried in this onslaught of advertising, lost in the shuffle, is the fact that is enticing users, by all using all sorts of gimmicks, to install its toolbar - The Ask Bar - as anti-spyware advocate Ben Edelman calls it.

Most users might think that the Ask Bar was just another search toolbar, like Google's. That's what is counting on. But that's not what the Ask Bar is. The Ask Bar is FunWebProducts (i.e. SmileyCentral and thirteen other questionable application combined). Many good anti-spyware programs will remove these products, yet continues to claim they're not adware or spyware. More important, in our view, than whether or (IAC) is pandering adware or spyware or browser/search engine hijackers, is the deceit IAC/ users to entice unwary users to install its "FunWebProducts".

Has Google gotten so big and so powerful that competitors like feel they have to resort what amounts to propagation by deception? Apparently so, because, as Ben Edelman eloquently discusses in his article - Ask Bar has no compunction about going after kids. Are they targeting children? It appears so. And, they're not shy about it either. Yet they deny it.

It's not Google's fault that it is the biggest search engine. Google got where they are by giving people what they want - good search results. And they've built an empire ethically. They've been cautious about their expansion and have a corporate motto which states something like: "Do no harm". We've always commended Google for their attention to their user's privacy. We've never found any software that carries the Google brand to have any unwanted bundles or that entices users to install it by using the word "Free" to dupe the user into installing bundles of other unwanted software. In other words we've never seen Google offering "Free Smileys" to entice the user into installing its toolbars. Never. We've never seen Google offering "Free Cursors" to get people to install its Desktop Search program. If you download the Google Toolbar you get the Google Toolbar because you want the Google Toolbar. It's that simple.

It is our opinion, and the opinion of others, like Ben Edelman, that IAC/ does not share Google's ethical approach. In fact, they don't seem to have any ethical or moral concerns about the methods they use to induce people, particularly children, to install the "Ask Bar". What do so-called free "Smileys" or "Cursors" have to do with a search toolbar? Nothing at all except to serve as goad to install the toolbar.  And again, whether or not these products are adware, spyware or browser/search engine hijackers is not the point. It's the deceit we're concerned with. The deceit used by to entice users into install its toolbars in its attempt to take from the number five search engine to the top. We think if enough people realize what Ask/IAC is doing, they'll not only never make the top, they might be lucky to hold on to the number five ranking they currently have. But does anyone care enough to stop this company's questionable methods. Does anyone care if they use deceit to get their toolbars installed on as many computers as they can by whatever means are necessary? plays the semantics game with their customized definitions of adware and spyware. A program would have to be a password-stealing, stealthy little devil, to be considered adware or spyware based on their constrictive definitions. But, we'd like to ask about the definition of the word "deceit". I notice they don't have a customized definition of that word on their site. Maybe because the word "deceit" is in the dictionary and has been for several hundred years. They can't rewrite a custom definition of the word deceit. It's too late. I'll refresh their memory in case they can't remember what the definition of "deceit" is:

de-ceit (di--seet) –noun
1. the act or practice of deceiving; concealment or distortion of the truth for the purpose of misleading; duplicity; fraud; cheating: Once she exposed their deceit, no one ever trusted them again.
2. an act or device intended to deceive; trick; stratagem.
3. the quality of being deceitful; duplicity; falseness: a man full of deceit. Have we really reached the stage where competition among multi-billion dollar corporations and their hunger for wealth means that corporations like IAC/ are now throwing ethics and morality to the wind; and will now use whatever means they can to compete? IAC/ target children is not ethical. They must think it's not ethically or morally right to target children because, in fact they deny they do it. They deny they do it even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they do it.

If entices children (and adults) with colorful, free "Smileys" and then installs 13 other programs including the Ask bar (also known as MyWebSearch Toolbar, MySearch Toolbar, MyTotalSearch Toolbar, MyWay Toolbar, and other pseudonyms) isn't that deceit? If has to resort to trickery to influence people to install their toolbar, isn't that deceit? If I advertise that I'll give you a free car and then require you (in fine print, buried in a 7500+ word legal document) to give me access to your house and all its contents in exchange for it, that car isn't really "free" is it? In the real world our common sense tells us when something is likely to be a scam. But for some reason people fall for scams on the Internet as if they were born yesterday.

Have we really reached the stage where competition among multi-billion dollar corporations and their hunger for wealth means that corporations like IAC/ are now throwing ethics and morality to the wind; and will now use whatever means they can to compete? IAC/ targeting children is not ethical or moral for a variety of reasons - not just for the obvious ones. And, must think it's not ethically or morally right to target children either, because in fact, they deny they do it. And they deny it even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they do.

How this affects you should be obvious. And we hope you're beginning to see that the real issue isn't adware or spyware, the real issue is deceit. And deceit does not need an Internet convention convened to define it like the terms adware and spyware apparently do.

We STILL don't have an accepted definition of adware or spyware yet. And we probably never will. Do you know why? Imagine a state legislature writing a law but the criminals who are affected by the law have to approve the law before it could go into effect. That's what's happening on the Internet right now. Anti-spyware companies define spyware and then set standards. Then they make a list of all products that fit that definition. Then the spyware company whose product is being targeted by the anti-spyware company doesn't like that particular definition of the word "spyware" so they sue the anti-spyware company. Without a clear, generally accepted definition, the lowlifes and the criminals on the Internet will continue to play the semantics game.

But deceit is a word that already has a definition. And deceit is the issue we raise with

And the issue goes beyond If their ploys are successful and they increase their ranking and their income, how long do you think it will take the other "also-ran" search engines to stoop to's level of deceiving users in order to get their "toolbars" installed? Not very. There's not much innovation by the big companies on the Internet these days (with the possible exception of Google who is buying its way to innovation). Most of the innovation comes from the individuals, the small companies, the "garage sites". Just look at It was started by two guys in a garage - and they're now billionaires. I point this out because since most of the innovative ideas do not come from the big companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, etc. and if one company sees another companies are successful they're going to copy their ideas. Just look at Yahoo trying to chase Google. Whenever Google does something that Yahoo feels will help Google maintain their lead, Yahoo does something similar to try to keep pace. Fortunately for us, there's not much likelihood of the number two (Yahoo) and number three (MSN) search engines emulating the number five search engine, But if Ask starts to overtake MSN and then Yahoo, it's not a great leap of logic to think they're going to start copying's methods. And that's bad thing.

I mentioned that, in my opinion, not only uses deceitful means to goad users into installing its toolbars, they are deceiving advertisers too. Advertisers pay a fee to advertise products on their network. Advertisers are no more aware than than average consumer of what Ask's practices are. You can bet that if the companies advertising with Ask are not aware that Ask is targeting children, they're not aware either that many of the ads their paying for are being seen by children. How many children buy online? How many children have credit cards? Not many. But advertisers pay for advertising in three ways: The pay by "impression" (i.e. the number of times the ad is displayed - this is called CPM - or cost per thousand impressions); they pay by "click" (the number of times links in the ad are clicked - this is called CPC - or cost per click) or they pay by "action" (when someone clicks a link and takes action - buys something, signs up for something - this is called "CPA" or Cost Per Action). The majority of advertising is either CPM or CPC. Either way the advertiser paying Ask for CPM or CPC advertising isn't getting their message to the people who are most likely to buy a product or service if targets children. The advertiser may be impressed by the number of "impressions" of its ad being shown by Ask, but this is deceiving if the majority of Ask toolbars are installed because children were enticed into installing them by "free smileys", "free cursors" "free screen savers" or other "free" things which come with the Ask toolbars strings attached. The advertisers really aren't getting their moneys worth, advertising is a cost of doing business, ineffective advertising raises prices, and we all end up paying more. Advertisers are paying Ask for ads which are being delivered as promised, but which, in many cases, are being delivered to children who are not able or likely to buy on line. So Ask is not only deceiving consumers, it is deceiving the companies that pay them to advertise their products. Ben Edelman writes (of targeting children)"...Ask's representative vehemently denied that Ask targets kids, and for good reason: It would be unseemly, at best, to build a business by convincing kids to install software they don't need and are ill-equipped to understand. Yet that's my best assessment of Ask's toolbar installation practices..." Unseemly? Indeed. We ask Ask why would you stoop to such a level - are your products and services so inferior you feel the need to deceive users to win the game?

This may all seem like something we've hashed over a hundred times before. But Ask has now gone mainstream big time now and continues to pump millions and millions of dollars into television advertising to compliment its multi-million dollar Internet advertising budget. In their TV ads, the "smileys" are nowhere to be seen; on the Internet, the "smileys" remain their main enticement to Children and can be seen everywhere. Ben Edelman points out in his article that if one looks at the popular MySpace Web site, one might think it was owned by "...Ads at MySpace offer an intriguing case study. The format and substance of's toolbar ads at MySpace tends to falsely suggest that these offers are part of MySpace. Some user confusion arises from the color, layout, and lack of a clearly-delineated separation between ads and content. Details. Crucially, the substance of Ask's offer also suggests an apparent affiliation with MySpace. Details. The net effect is users may install Ask toolbars under the false belief that these toolbars actually come from MySpace, or that they're in some way endorsed by MySpace. ...." (from "The Ad / Content Separation, and Advertising at MySpace" by Ben Edelman).

Clearly, to me at least, Ask thrives on deceiving users and advertisers in various ways. But making its ads match the design and format of MySpace, the intent seems clear that their intention can be no other than to make it appear to the viewer that SmileyCentral/ is part of MySpace or at least endorsed by MySpace. Ask/IAC denies it targets children but the proof provided by Ben Edelman shows again that they clearly do target children. Why else would they advertise on sites geared to children? Are they too ashamed of their "unseemly" behavior to admit it. Can one seriously consider a good corporate citizen? Or even a good corporate Netizen?

In the real (physical) world, a company who behaved like Ask/IAC would quickly (and deservedly) garner a bad reputation among consumers and would have to change in order to compete and survive. But, the Internet, although a reflection of the real world, gives companies like Ask/IAC a playground where they can flourish, succeed and excel by duping users into using its search services albeit via the back door of its various toolbars.

Here's what we know. is responsible for the many non-search related products that they use to goad and entice children (and unsuspecting adults) into installing not only its toolbars (of various names and descriptions) but also, in many cases, its questionable bundle of (at last count) fourteen loosely related products.

As Ben Edelman points out, IAC/'s EULA is longer than the constitution of the United States and longer even than Microsoft Windows' EULA. While we cannot say for sure what the motive was behind this excessively long, excessively convoluted, EULA is; one can certainly make an educated guess. The likely motive behind this cumbersome document is to ensure that the average user won't spend hours plodding through it. In short: The average user won't read it and knows it. So in this case, hidden disclosure equals no disclosure at all. The user, after installing this Ask/IAC bundle has no legal recourse because by installing the software, you're agreeing to be legally bound by a EULA (End User License Agreement) you didn't even read. Ask/IAC will blame you for not reading it. But you and I know that is not fair. In my opinion the document is created to be long and incomprehensible to the average consumer and therefore, can be reasonably sure that most consumers will never, ever read it.

And, remember, targets children. Do you really think children are going to read a 7000+ word EULA before installing "free Smileys"? Does any reasonable person expect that will ever happen? Children wouldn't read a fifty-word EULA let alone a 7000-word EULA. Another deceitful practice of IAC/

Here is a list of some of the products and services offered by Ask/IAC (Items in bold are software products - many of which come bundled with others. For instance, when you click to download SmileyCentral, you'll get a bundle of software applications mostly unrelated to SmileyCentral)

Popular Screensavers
My Mail Notifier
My Mail Signature
My Mail Stationery
My Mail Stamp
MyWebSearch Toolbar
Ask Toolbar or "Ask Bar"
MyTotalSearch Toolbar
MySearch Toolbar
MyWay Toolbar

Software programs like "SmileyCentral" have been generally regarded as "adware/spyware/hijackers" by most popular anti-spyware software developers. (Although, many of these now lump adware/spyware into the Potentially Unwanted Software (PUS) group or "questionable software" to avoid potential litigation - limburger cheese by any other name still smells as bad).  But, one thing is for sure, SmileyCentral comes bundled with plenty of other software - programs which are unrelated to it and all of which are configured to startup with Windows. This, of course, causes a substantial hit on the target computer's resources - that's not good because that normally results in impaired (read "slow") computer performance. And, all of the software installed by this bundle will require you to leave the toolbar in place or the other programs will not function. The intent is clear. Ask/IAC uses enticements like SmileyCentral, deceiving the user, in order to get their various toolbars installed on consumers' computers. is not above using deceitful practices in order to to further its corporate goals of climbing up the search engine ranks and competing head to head with Google. IAC/Ask will "give" you "free Smileys" only if you use its toolbars. And, though they claim you can use any search engine you want, with any of their toolbars installed, will inject their advertising into the search results. That means if you search with Google, and you have one of Ask/IAC's toolbars installed, advertising will be injected into your search results, into the page you see from Google on your browser. And, these advertisements, in many cases will look very similar, sometimes indistinguishable from your normal search results. This confuses the viewer and increases the likelihood that the view will inadvertently click on an advertising link thinking it is a search result. And, guess who gets paid? Not Google. Not you. Got it now? That's right IAC/ASK gets paid and the losers are the viewer (you) and the advertiser who paid ASK/IAC for the inadvertent click.

You can ignore it and let it go on. We can all sit back and see where this all leads. But, if we all ignore this kind of deceit and accept these kinds of practices from "brand name" companies like, I can tell you that we're all going to see more and more of these kinds of "bait and install" tactics. There may come a day when even those of us who have acquired a lot of "Net Savvy" won't be able to tell the good from the bad and our precious Internet, which is already be threatened in so many ways, won't be recognizable to our children and our children's children.

The FTC is the only one who has any control over this type of thing. If we all express our disgust that feel (or darn well should feel) when a supposedly upstanding corporation like Ask, stoops to deception to entice people into installing things on their computer that they may not want;  and to targeting children in order to compete in a search-engine world dominated by fair-player Google, perhaps we can change things.

What IAC/Ask is doing reminds me of the old "bait & switch" only this may actually be worse. Your computer performance is going to be slowed by having numerous applications installed even though you only downloaded the "free smileys" - the bundle will install a dozen or more other programs - including the "toolbar du jour". It's very difficult to remove all this software by normal methods. Going to Control Panel/Add-Remove Programs may remove parts of these programs but it doesn't remove many registry entries; it doesn't remove IAC/'s browser tags; it doesn't reset any changes made to way your email program sends images; or changes made to your "default" choice of search engine  or start page, etc.. Hundreds of registry changes are made when you install FunWebProducts/ software and many of these linger long after you have attempted to remove their programs. Even if you use a good anti-spyware program to remove FunWebProducts/ software (and many of the top anti-spyware programs do remove FunWebProducts) you're still going to have some remnants of these programs on your computer and registry changes made by FunWebProducts/ software may well be left behind. This is not right and it's not fair. Especially since many users were deceived into installing this software bundle in the first place. They wanted "free smileys" and got "cursors, screen savers, 'fun' cards, etc). And all of this stuff was installed on your computer just so could get the money-maker installed - the "Ask Bar" (also called MyWebSearch toolbar, MySearch toolbar, MyTotalSearch Toolbar, MyWay Toolbar, Ask Toolbar, among others). We call it "Toolbar Du Jour". The name of the toolbar is whatever they are calling it today.

You can lodge a complaint against's deceptive advertising and their deceptive installation practices by visiting the FTC's "Consumer Complaint" Web site. You may also want to reference Ben Edelman's article and this article when you write the FTC. And most importantly tell them your experiences with FunWebProducts/ and how you feel about programs goading users into installing "Free Smileys" and then finding it out it was all a ploy to get their toolbars installed on your computer (as well as numerous other programs you didn't know you were going to get unless you took time to read a 7000+ word EULA).

The link to Ben Edelman's article about FunWebProducts/ is:

The link to this article is:

When a big player cheats, we, the consumers, pay the price. When a big-time player like cheats - what kind of example does it set for the smaller players on the Web? If they  continue to get away with it, there's going to be a lot of trouble ahead for us all. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

Tell us what you think - Please

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