Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #86 - June 10, 2005
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Please reference the source as http://thundercloud.net/infoave/truth2-rant.htm

Notes:  15 June 2005 - Hotbar continues to display the "Microsoft® Certified Partner" logo in violation of Microsoft® policies. (They were still illegally displaying the Microsoft Certified Partner logo as of August 1, 2006 - I guess that means Microsoft doesn't really care who uses it; so from now on Cloudeight is a Microsoft Certified Partner too!)  SunBelt Software (developer of the anti-spyware program "CounterSpy") will soon be upgrading Hotbar from "low-risk adware" to "moderate-risk adware" in part, according to Sunbelt's Alex Eckelberry, because of Hotbar's "...randomly named resuscitator program to resist removal by anti-spyware software..." . You can read Sunbelt's article here

Hotbar- The Saga Continues

Many of you are aware that Hotbar has sent threatening letters to Cloudeight, which we in turn posted on the web in a previous rant. Many others have come forward and publicly posted threatening letters they have received from Hotbar and other companies, who are largely regarded by the anti-spyware community as "adware and/or spyware" developers. We recently received a reply to our response to Hotbar's "Cease and Desist" letter, in which Hotbar and its CEO Oren Dobronsky, demanded that we publish his (Hotbar's) rebuttal. Therefore, we accede to Mr. Dobronsky's "demands" and publish his reply (rebuttal). It should be noted that both letters we received came by courier from Hotbar.com, Inc., Tel Aviv, Israel. The rebuttal (reply) from Hotbar was also transmitted to us via email from Hotbar's nospy@hotbar.com address.

NOTE: Hotbar's letter (direct quotes and in order) are in blue italic text followed by our responses. For the sake of continuity quotes from Hotbar's letter preface our responses. Here, therefore, as demanded by Hotbar, we publish Hotbar's rebuttal letter in its entirety. And, publicly post our comments and rebuttal response to Hotbar's April 2005 letter below:

(Quoted from letter received from Hotbar): "We received your letter of March 11, 2005.  We also note that you have published our correspondence with you on your website. Since your response distorts and misrepresents the facts in a manner which only causes Hotbar more damages, you are hereby demanded to publish the following reply on our behalf in order to present the complete facts:


First, we recently approached you since you did not comply with our letter of March 2004 and kept publishing your web page (under the name “Hotbar is spyware”) accusing Hobtar (sic) of being spyware. This page has only been removed recently subsequent to our recent letter.  Therefore, we do not “have the wrong company” but rather have the “right” company, which just keeps causing us damages as part of its unfair practices, as detailed below.


As indicated in our first letter, many leading anti-spyware/adware companies DO NOT detect Hotbar as spyware or any other kind of an undesirable software (in addition, to the large companies mentioned in our first letter, here are some additional examples: spywareguide.com and their X-Cleaner/X-Block scanner, NoAdware, simplythebest.net, free-web-browsers.com, XofstSpy, Spyware Stormer, Bazooka, PcOrion, Spyware Nuker, Adwarespy and AlertSpy).  Also, contrary to the false contentions in your letter, McAfee and Doxdesk DO NOT detect Hotbar or refer to it as spyware or adware.  This is an objective fact that can easily be checked by anyone, but for some reason you keep choosing to ignore the facts and tell your user half truths or lies...."


First, we removed any Cloudeight content from the page "Hotbar Is Spyware" in April 2004. What we did with that page, then, was provide a list of links to sites which detected Hotbar as spyware. This was done as a service to our readers to help them make an informed decision about Hotbar. We published no content after April 2004 describing Hotbar as spyware, although we did list many links to other major sites which did. There were no resources on that page that couldn't have been found easily by anyone doing a search on Google simply for the word "Hotbar" or "Hotbar + Spyware". Since it remains our prerogative, and indeed our right, to publish links to other sites on our site and since we do not control the content of these other sites, we are not responsible for any statements or content displayed on third-party sites. The fact that we may agree with their assessment of Hotbar does not make us liable for the content on those sites. For as you state in your own Hotbar "Privacy Policy" "We are not responsible for the content of third-party sites that we link to"; neither are we. Indeed we tell our readers well-documented truth, not "half-truths" or outright lies as you represent. We removed the page "Hotbar Is Spyware" because we had no intention of wasting our time becoming embroiled in a ludicrous, petty, and childish debate with you. The page was not intrinsic or important to our site.


In reference to your statement that "many leading anti-spyware/adware companies DO NOT detect Hotbar as spyware or any other kind of undesirable software..." you have several incorrect statements. In our opinion, the sites and software programs you list (with the exception of McAfee) are not recognized as "leading anti-spyware/adware companies". In fact, most are small independent companies and certainly not "leading" companies with which most people are familiar. McAfee, for instance, despite what you say, does detect Hotbar as "undesirable" as it does refer to Hotbar as "adware". This is not opinion; it is fact.

"...Also, contrary to the false contentions in your letter, McAfee and Doxdesk DO NOT detect Hotbar or refer to it as spyware or adware.  This is an objective fact that can easily be checked by anyone, but for some reason you keep choosing to ignore the facts and tell your user half truths or lies...." 


We are not "liars" Mr. Dobronsky. Each statement we have made is well-documented. And, contrary, to what you wish to believe this McAfee page refers to Hotbar as Adware. McAfee also includes information on how to remove Hotbar. And again, you present misleading information about DoxDesk. While DoxDesk lists you as "reformed" it does not give the reader a favorable impression of your software. This is a quote from DoxDesk  (reference: http://www.doxdesk.com/parasite/Hotbar.html ).

What it (Hotbar) does


Yes. Opens frequent targeted pop-ups (often from net-offers.net) during browser use as directed by the server adopt.hotbar.com.

The oldest Hotbar versions do not open pop-ups. The newest version adds a disclaimer to the bottom of the pop-up window clarifying that the pop-up was originated by Hotbar.

Privacy violation

Yes. Periodic contact with adopt.hotbar.com and tooltips.hotbar.com, as well as contact with dynamic.hotbar.com on every new web page access, passes the full URL being viewed for targeting, including data entered into HTTP GET forms.

In older Hotbar versions a unique ID was also passed, allowing one’s long-term browsing habits to be tracked across sites. In the latest version, only the ‘tooltips’ accesses still pass this ID. However, a different trackable ID is set in a cookie at install-time, allowing web usage to be tracked for as long as the browser cookies are not deleted.

We also have knowledge that you have been in contact with one or more of the smaller independent companies you list and that you have threatened them with legal action and/or sent them "Cease and Desist" letters, then you cite them as not detecting Hotbar as adware or spyware. The only conclusions one can draw is that theses companies simply do not list Hotbar in its database. We cannot know the real reason they don't list Hotbar. People can and will draw their own conclusions about Hotbar based on information freely available to them on the Web..


The following leading companies who produce anti-spyware programs do recognize Hotbar as spyware and/or adware.


Trend Micro (PC-Cillin)
Symantec (Norton)
Panda Software (Panda)

Pest Patrol (Computer Associates)
CounterSpy (Sunbelt)
SpySweeper (WebRoot)
AOL Anti-Spyware (AOL)
SpyBot Search & Destroy


Some smaller, yet popular, anti-spyware tools, such as JavaCool's Spyware Blaster (yet another company you have threatened), detect Hotbar as "potentially unwanted software" and will attempt to warn the user before installing Hotbar. Bill P Studio's WinPatrol, still detects Hotbar as adware and/or potentially unwanted software.


In your April letter you (Hotbar) claim: "In this regard, your accusation that Hotbar’s software interferes with the operation of Outlook Express (which is simply unfounded) is false."


There is no question that Hotbar changes the default settings of Outlook Express from "Send pictures with message" (Default setting in Outlook Express 6). You assert in your rebuttal letter of April 2005, that you do not make any settings changes on the target computer. The changes that Hotbar makes to Outlook and Outlook Express, prevent users from sending pictures or stationery from their local hard drive(s) in their email. This indeed interferes with the normal (default) operation of Outlook Express. The setting changes that Hotbar makes interfere with our stationery as well stationery offered by Microsoft, which it provides, free of charge, with the Outlook Express email program. 


The user, can of course, use Hotbar's content since all of it is stored on various Hotbar Web servers. Therefore the ability to send pictures from their hard drive in email does not work unless they figure out how to manually change the settings back themselves.


Additionally, when Hotbar is uninstalled, it does not return Outlook Express to its default settings. Therefore, when one installs Hotbar it changes Outlook Express's default settings and when it is uninstalled, it does not return Outlook Express to its default mode. These findings are based on our tests of Hotbar done in March 2005. Therefore your statement that Hotbar does not interfere with the operation of Outlook Express is untrue.


"...You also conveniently chose to ignore in your letter the fact that you consider Hotbar a business rival of yours (in the field of e-mail enhancement tools), which is the explanation for the harsh unjustified libelous statements you distribute about us...."


We are not a "business rival" of yours. This is blatantly misleading and clearly untrue. It appears, once again, you have mistaken us for someone else. FunWebProducts (AKA SmileyCentral, Ask Jeeves, MyWay, MyWebSearch, MySearch, SpeedBar, MyEmailStationery, et. al.) is your competitor, not Cloudeight. Their products mirror yours much more closely than ours. And, in our opinion, it is the success of FunWebProducts that has sent you off in a tizzy. It seems to us, that as a businessman, you should certainly be able to more accurately determine who your real competitors are and do whatever is necessary to compete with them. You should be aware also, that your rival, FunWebProducts, has also been examined by Ben Edelman.


Wasting your time and resources on a small "mom & pop" shop like Cloudeight, is futile. You are well aware that Cloudeight does not produce any sort of  BHO (Browser Helper Objects) or Internet Explorer or Outlook Express toolbars. And, you should know that we (Cloudeight) do not have any facility in our products or on our Web servers to track the Web sites our users visit or to display "relevant" advertising based on their  Web browsing history or search terms. Hotbar clearly does this, and you (Hotbar) so state, regardless of how deeply you have chosen bury this very important information within your privacy policy and license agreement. We don't bury things deep in nearly incomprehensible license agreements or privacy policies. Our privacy policy is quite simple: 1209 words of plain English, which you or anyone may review at any time. We are not a business rival or competitor of Hotbar or your biggest rival, FunWebProducts (SmileyCentral, Ask Jeeves, MyWay, Iwon, MySearch, MyWebSearch, MyEmailStationery, et.al.).


Our stationery is completely free and contains no adware, spyware, grayware, or malware. In fact a search for Cloudeight + Spyware in Google does not turn up a single negative statement about Cloudeight or Cloudeight Stationery. We have earned our reputation as a site you can trust. We didn't attempt to buy respect, we don't threaten or coerce others in an attempt to make them respect us. Our readers, our guests, and those who download our software can be certain, beyond a doubt, that we care about their privacy and their right to download unadulterated software, free from tracking devices, adware, spyware, hijackers, malware, grayware or any other questionable software. We believe that our guests, subscribers, and those who choose to download our software deserve the same respect and the same privacy as we ourselves demand. We are the number one site on the Internet for Free Email Stationery, yet we have spent less than $500.00 total on advertising in over 6 years on the Web. We are not a multi-million dollar company, and probably never will be. But, we are trusted and respected, and that is how we measure our success.


We digress: Another claim you (Hotbar) make: "...Millions of users download and use Hotbar’s software only for its great features.  Thus, for the sake of illustration, you “forgot” to tell your readers that a search on Google for Hotbar + Emoticons turns up 47,800 results, more than the results you relate to in Google search for Hotbar + spyware - there are much more websites and users which praise the great features of Hotbar’s software rather than distribute false libelous statements about it...."


Actually, a search on Google for Hotbar+Emoticons turns up 130,000 "hits" (Search Conducted on June 9, 2005) and many of these "hits" are not complimentary to Hotbar. In fact, some of the few sites praising Hotbar are Hotbar itself (and sites owned by Hotbar such as www.spamfree.com which is registered to Oren Dobronsky / Hotbar).

A search for "Hotbar+Spyware" today (9 June 2005)  yields 214,000 results (click here to see results of the search conducted on June 9, 2005). A simple search for "Hotbar" yields over 1.1 million "hits" and a majority of those results are not favorable to Hotbar.


You use the term "libelous" quite freely. Your letters are peppered with the term. "Libel" is defined (in the USA) as "An untruthful statement about a person (company, organization), published in writing or through broadcast media, that injures the person's reputation or standing in the community." Statements of fact cannot, therefore, be libelous. Truth can never be libel.


You continue to display the "Microsoft Certified Partner" logo on your pages. This might lead your visitors to believe that Hotbar has been "certified" by, endorsed by, or is in some way connected with Microsoft. This is simply not true. Yet, it seems to us, that in an apparent attempt to lure people to download your product and to lend Hotbar an aura of respectability and credibility, you continue to use Microsoft's Certified Partner logo in violation of Microsoft's own terms. (Screen shot taken 6/09/05).

The Microsoft Certified Partner logo does NOT mean the program is certified by Microsoft, endorsed by Microsoft, or recommended by Microsoft. This is what Microsoft says: "The partners listed in the Microsoft Resource Directory are part of the Microsoft Partner Program, however Microsoft does not endorse any of the partners or their software, solutions, services and training listed on this site. Microsoft disclaims any and all liability arising out of your use of the partners, software, solutions, services and training listed on the site. All software, solutions, services and training are provided “as is” and without warranty unless provided by the authoring partner."


And, once again, your document arrived at our offices from Tel Aviv, Israel and your email was sent from Israel, yet you continue to use the New York address as if Hotbar is actually "based in New York". It appears you like to give that impression. We have photographs of your New York office, which you list as the International Sales Headquarters of Hotbar.com, Inc. along with statements you made to the press (after receiving millions of dollars in capitalization) that you were going to "take Manhattan by storm".

There is nothing wrong with being located in Israel, Canada, Australia, Germany, or anywhere else. Why  you feel the need to be a U.S. based company is beyond our understanding. Indeed a search of corporate filings shows Hotbar.com, Inc. registered in in the United States (Delaware) as a foreign corporation.


As for your conclusion that we are jealous because you are "more successful" than us, we remind you that "success" is a subjective term. The loyalty and trust of our guests and subscribers is the measure of our success, and by our definition, we have been very successful.  As far as your statement that we are "jealous" of Hotbar we have no comment; your own words speak for themselves.


You may continue to deny you are adware or spyware, but clearly, your product uses an individual's computer resources to display advertising (buttons, sidebars, and popups) in, around, and over Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, and Outlook and Outlook Express. You continually obfuscate the fact that you track a person's web browsing and typed search entries and display advertising based on an individual's Web browsing and typed search entries. You do this in several ways: Buried deep in a 4500+ word License Agreement, and a 3500+ word Privacy Policy; documents so full of euphemisms and legalese that you can reasonably assume almost no one is ever going to read them. And, on this page, you state that "Hotbar does monitor the websites you visit for the sole purpose of presenting contextually related information." You refer to advertisements as "contextually related information." One might think that Hotbar was somehow going to educate them with  "contextually related information", because in the English dictionary "information" is defined as "Knowledge derived from study, experience, or instruction". What knowledge will the use of Hotbar provide its users?  You claim you monitor the websites that people visit for the "SOLE" purpose of providing contextually related "information". We were not aware that information is a synonym for advertising.


Apparently Hotbar has corrected its Truste Problems - therefore see our TRUSTe Rant.   Again, it appears you use the TRUSTe seal  to give your program(s) an aura of trust. Ben Edelman clearly shows what your product does and how you target children. Apparently, you have no problem with targeting children and inducing them any way you can to install your product.


Ben Edelman states: "...What's the big deal about offering software via methods that tend to reach children? For one, children generally cannot enter into contracts -- so even if a child clicks the "Yes" button Hotbar subsequently presents, Hotbar's license terms may not be binding. Also, children may be less able to assess the merits of an Hotbar offer -- less able to determine whether Hotbar software is a good value, less likely to realize the privacy and other consequences of installing such software, less inclined to examine a lengthy license agreement. ..."


But, today we are acceding to your demands and are publishing your entire letter of April 2005. We have, to the best of our ability, factually answered your claims and. we have, when necessary, clearly documented our responses.


We believe that respect is earned, not bought or won with threats, intimidation, or coercion. If you had chosen a different and more forthright approach with people then perhaps your products would have earned the trust and respect for which you now so desperately yearn.


We will not accept any further communication with you or Hotbar.com, Inc.. We do not have the time to waste engaging in a fruitless and petty war of words with you. In the final analysis, the Internet community, not us, will decide the fate of Hotbar. Its reputation is now well known. The reputation Hotbar has earned among the Internet community is your responsibility, not ours. Your attacks on us and others and letters such as one we respond to here do nothing to enhance Hotbar's reputation, image, or credibility on the World Wide Web.

Please click here to read the entire letter sent to us by Hotbar, Inc.


Further reading:
Hotbar Threatens Cloudeight
Threats to Spyware Critics

Bed Edelman: What's So Hot About Hotbar"
Sunbelt Software's Response to Hotbar (PDF)
Hotbar Sued By Symantec

Truste Revokes Hotbar's Right To Display Its Seal
Our Readers' Comments About Hotbar

Sunbelt Software (CounterSpy) upgrades Hotbar from low-risk to moderate-risk adware

Thundercloud & Eightball's Truth Rant - Hotbar Attacks Cloudeight

Tell us what you think - Please

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Please reference the source as http://thundercloud.net/infoave/truth2-rant.htm

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