Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #83 - May 20, 2005
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Hotbar Scalded by
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.
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
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....
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.)...."
Edelman points out that Hotbar's
license agreement is "deficient". Edelman states: "....Hotbar's ActiveX
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
(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".
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
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
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.
Notes - Also see Ben Edelman's article entitled "Threats To Spyware Critics".
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