Java scam: How Oracle and Ask profit from sneaky add-ons

Every time users update Java, traps in the program try to trick them into installing useless toolbars and add-ons

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As a result, many users assume they can't uninstall the Ask toolbar at all, because they'd already tried. How confusing. That's hardly accidental, and Edelman notes that the delayed-install trick was a standard practice for companies in the business of installing deceptive software some years ago.

What's more, the Oracle/IAC installation solicitation for Ask seeks permission to install an add-on for IE, Chrome, and Firefox, but nowhere does it mention changing address bar search or, in the case of Chrome, the default search provider. Yet the installer makes all these changes without ever seeking or receiving user consent. Conversely, if you figure out how to uninstall the Ask toolbar, the Oracle/IAC uninstaller inexplicably fails to restore the original Chrome settings, which violates Google's software principles' requirement that an "easy" uninstall must disable "all functions of the application," says Edelman. Users need to go through as many as 16 steps to dump some Ask toolbars installed by Oracle/IAC. Yikes!

Even Google profits from this scam
Oracle gets a small commission every time someone installs the Ask toolbar. Because millions of users have installed it, we're talking real money, though there's no way to quantify the amount. IAC, the Web advertising company, makes even more money in this sleazy operation: Every time someone clicks on a sponsored ad on one of its search pages, IAC gets a commission.

To be sure that happens as frequently as possible, the company misleads users into clicking those ads. According to Edelman, IAC omits any distinctive background color to help users distinguish sponsored search results, which are really ads, from legitimate search results. Those sponsored ads sometimes fill up several screens, which a user accustomed to a Google search wouldn't expect and is so even more likely to click on one.

Someone else makes money on this scam, too. Surprisingly, it's Google, which you'd assume is a competitor to Ask. That's because IAC partners with Google by showing its ads in exchange for a share of the revenue, says Edelman. Indeed, a report in the respected Search Engine Land blog says IAC is Google's biggest single advertising customer. So much for Google's software principles.

Then there's the Chelsea Clinton connection
One final tidbit noted by Edelman: In September 2011, Chelsea Clinton, daughter of the former U.S. president and the current Secretary of State, joined the board of IAC. Given that Clinton (who has worked as a management consultant, charity executive, and TV features reporter) has no known expertise in the world of Web advertising, it's not much of a stretch to believe she was brought on to bolster the company's political connections.

Wow. Who would have thought that a simple Java update had tentacles that extended all the way to Washington, D.C.?

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here (Add a comment) so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill@billsnyder.biz. Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "Java scam: How Oracle and Ask profit from sneaky add-ons," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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