Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

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From InfoAve Premium Issue #83 - May 20, 2005
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Hotbar Scalded by Anti-Spyware Researcher

Acclaimed Spyware/Adware researcher Ben Edelman scalded Hotbar and its installation and marketing tactics this week in his excellent article "What's So Hot About Hotbar?" What prompted Edelman was yet another Hotbar "Cease & Desist" letter (almost an exact copy of the one we received). However, this time, Hotbar picked on the prosperous software company "Sunbelt Software". It seems that Sunbelt's CounterSpy dares to call Hotbar "low-risk adware". In light of Sunbelt's definition of Hotbar as adware, Hotbar's founder, CEO, legal counsel, advertising agent, human resources manager, programmer, copyright agent and apparently "jack-of-all-trades", Oren Dobronsky, fired off one of his infamous "Cease and Desist" letters.

Hotbar's Dobronsky claims that Hotbar is neither adware or spyware, in spite of numerous advertisements (see screenshots in Ben Edelman's article) with which it fills toolbars (including, curiously, the Windows Explorer toolbar). Apparently, Dobronsky doesn't share the opinion that an application, like Hotbar, which demonstrably (again see Edelman's article and related screenshots) covers toolbars with advertising, launches popups and other forms of advertising, qualifies his "Hotbar" program as "adware". Edelman has a different take on Hotbar, however.

Edelman cites Hotbar's questionable practice of targeting kids with brightly colored "smileys", advertising Hotbar on sites generally visited by children, and of obfuscating what, exactly, his program does in a 4200+ word license agreement. Edelman's documentation (as always) is impeccable and it would be hard for Dobronsky to refute anything Edelman presents. After all, it's very difficult to argue against the truth and to dispute the visual evidence presented by Ben Edelman.

Another interesting expose' by Edelman is Hotbar's continued use of the "Microsoft Certified Partner" logo which appears to used by Hotbar to cause a reasonable person to believe that Hotbar is somehow endorsed by or affiliated with Microsoft, which is not true. Edelman's points this out by saying: "Microsoft's About Partners page specifically requires that certified partners have at least two Microsoft Certified Professionals on staff. However, Microsoft's entry for Hotbar indicates that Hotbar has zero Certified Professionals on staff. If so, Hotbar would seem to be ineligible to be a Microsoft Certified Partner....

... Microsoft's Certified Professional Logo Guidelines impose multiple restrictions that Hotbar seems to violate -- including restrictions on the substance of permissible uses, on the permitted implications of such use, and even on layout and formatting. For example, Microsoft's guidelines provide that Certified Professionals may use Microsoft logos in advertisements "specifically relating to MCP training and testing services," but Microsoft specifically prohibits using the logos on "web pages that do not pertain to MCP training." (Hotbar's pages are not about training, thereby perhaps violating this provision or its possible analogue in the Certified Partner terms.) Microsoft further prohibits using its logos "in any matter that ... might imply Microsoft's ... endorsement." (Hotbar's pages might reasonably be interpreted to imply Microsoft endorsement, thereby perhaps violating the corresponding Partner provision.)...."   (reference
http://www.benedelman.org/spyware/installations/kidzpage-hotbar/hotbar-ms-051405.html ).

Edelman points out that Hotbar's license agreement is "deficient". Edelman states: "....Hotbar's ActiveX warning does ask users to "agree to Hotbar's Terms of Use and License," and it indicates that users can click to review that document. Clicking the specified link yields a lengthy license agreement -- some 4,562 words, shown in 37 on-screen pages. Although this document ultimately explains that Hotbar will show ads, its explanation is substantially deficient..."
(ref. http://www.benedelman.org/spyware/installations/kidzpage-hotbar/ )

Interestingly, an article published by USA Today, on May 18, 2005 indicates that 97% of those who install spyware or adware never read the EULA (license agreement). That doesn't come as a surprise to us and it is reasonable to believe that adware and spyware developers know this too. It's a well-known and documented fact that few ever bother to read the EULA for various reasons, one of which is the simple fact that they're written so as to be nearly incomprehensible. Please read this excellent article by Eric J. Sinrod entitled "Consumer Confusion Abounds Over Spyware".

Hopefully, this time, Dobronsky picked on the wrong company. Unlike his previous targets, which were mostly small mom & pop shops, Sunbelt is no mom & pop shop. It is a leading software company with millions of dollars in sales and substantial resources at its command.

In our opinion, the recent barrage of Hotbar "Cease & Desist" letters, that attempt to thwart critics and interfere with a legitimate businesses' right to conduct business without harassment. must come to an end. We hope Sunbelt pursues this issue with Hotbar to its ultimate conclusion - restraining developers like Dobronsky from firing off frivolous "Cease and Desist" letters to anyone who dares criticize his software programs.

It seems to us that Hotbar and these types of programs seek to turn people's private property into billboards for the monetary gain of the developers. There's nothing wrong with making a lot of money, but using other people's private property and resources to display all sorts of advertising, based on the user's own private use of his or her computer, over, around, above, below, and in toolbars and program windows seems inherently wrong to us. We hope Sunbelt will be the one to call Dobronsky's bluff. For, if they do, perhaps it will inspire Dobronsky, and others of his ilk,  to use more restraint and common sense when threatening those who dare to honestly criticize their software products and question their marketing methods.

We commend Ben Edelman for his honest and well-documented article showing what kind of software Hotbar seems to be and what kind of company appears to be behind it.

In the United States we value our right to express our opinions; indeed we hold dear the right of free speech. Our right to express ourselves and to share our opinions freely is the cornerstone of our democracy. One can only hope that Dobronsky will take time to learn more about the laws and freedoms of the country in which he claims to be based.

Additional Notes - Also see Ben Edelman's article entitled "Threats To Spyware Critics".

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Opinions expressed herein are the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Cloudeight Internet LLC, its hosts, or sponsors. These Rants are editorials and are,  therefore, opinions. All content is copyright 2005 by Cloudeight Internet LLC (all rights reserved)

All content is copyright 2005 by Cloudeight Internet LLC (all rights reserved)