Wednesday, March 16, 2005

 

Randomness, Markov's got nothing on me....

A rather scary trend seems to be apparent, where spyware companies are starting to sue people for calling a spade a spade. Witness yesterday's thread on Broadband Reports about the makers of Hotbar threatening suit against CloudEight, an outfit that has nothing to do with developing or distributing anti-spyware tools. Somewhat coincidentally, CloudEight's site is down this morning and DNS can't resolve it. Hmmmmm. The rather interesting thing is that the thread happens to point out that Lavasoft, makers of AdAware, caved into lawsuit threats from Hotbar, and deleted them from their detections and removals.

Hotbar's privacy statement:
..HOTBAR COLLECTS AND STORES AGGREGATED INFORMATION ABOUT THE WEB SITES ITS USERS VIEW AND THE DATA THEY ENTER IN SEARCH ENGINE SEARCH FIELDS WHILE USING THE SOFTWARE. HOTBAR USES THIS INFORMATION TO DETERMINE WHICH ADS AND BUTTONS TO DISPLAY ON YOUR HOTBAR TOOLBARS AND WHICH ADS TO SHOW YOUR BROWSER...

Not shouting, folks. Just copied from the Broadband Reports link.

Interesting statement, though. It definitely collects data from your PC, in order for them to do their statistical wizardry (in other words, if someone enters "Pontiac" or something related to theology in a search field, show them an ad for ladies appearing to be underage engaging in unprintable acts). They do not specifically disclaim that the information is not personally identifiable, therefore the aggregated information may indeed be linkable to you somehow. It's a matter of semantics (and judging by what I read last night on CloudEight's web site, Hotbar, despite its protestations of being an American company, is apparently running out of Tel Aviv, therefore the privacy policy may have been "crafted" by someone who is not a native English speaker, so I'll give the benefit of the doubt there). However, since it is ambiguous, this is a case of "sil il marche comme une canard...." as far as I'm concerned. Symantec says it requires a positive action to install and calls it adware and says it's a low risk item.

The big question is probably whether this thing is bundled with something (and I'm pretty convinced at this point that bundling crapware with P2P stuff is a tactic of the entertainment industry to so louse up people's computers who trade files that they become unusable) and it is installed without affirmative consent to the component (in other words, they're installing a bundle and you have to agree to the entire bundle without any chance of evaluating whether they've done a good job of integration testing on said bundle). There will always be the PEBKACs who will click on a pop-up and come whining about it, but I will exclude them from the discussion (hey, they're profitable). If it's ever installed through an exploit of any sort, it's on the Dark Side. When Win32.beavis installs iSearch, that's a virus installing ahem adware. iDownload doesn't proactively reach out to the computer security community to get the thing off people's computers who never intended to download the thing. This speaks of either supreme arrogance, indifference or complicity. Hopefully Hotbar is merely one of those items that are installed through sheer user idiocy (gotta love redundancy), but since Hotbar is playing in a very close area to iDownload (read as you've got to use their SuperDuperSpecialProprietaryDon'tDareUseSpybot Uninstaller) they're treading on some iffy moral ground.

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