For several years, Oracle has been bundling the Ask toolbar with its Java software for Windows PCs, often using deceptive methods to convince customers to install the unwanted add-on.
With the latest release of Java for the Mac, Oracle has begun bundling the Ask adware with default installations as well, changing homepages in the process.
The unwelcome Ask extension shows up as part of the installer if a Mac user downloads Java 8 Update 40 for the Mac. In my tests on a Mac running that latest release of OS X, the installer added an app to the current browser, Chrome version 41. (In a separate test, I installed Java using the latest version of Safari, where it behaved in a similar fashion.)
As with its Windows counterpart, the Java installer selects the option to install the Ask app by default. A casual Mac user who simply clicks through the dialog boxes to complete the installation will find the app installed and enabled in their browser, with the New Tab page changed to one with an Ask search box.
I found it interesting that the Chrome Web Store listing for the Ask Search Extension reveals that the app's developer is listed as "chromewebstore12." That developer name is used by three related Ask apps and might lead an unsophisticated user to think that the app is an official offering from Chrome.
The previous Ask Search Extension, with more than 5 million installs and several dozen one-star reviews, is listed as being developed by APN LLC, which is identified in the license agreement for the Java installer.
As with its Windows counterpart, the Ask search page returns low-quality results that are heavily loaded with ads, most of which are not clearly distinguished from organic search listings.
In an apparently unwitting acknowledgment that its software isn't really a "convenient browsing tool," as its description suggests, the Help menu for the Ask button on the Chrome toolbar leads directly to a page containing uninstall instructions. The same menu contains a separate Uninstall listing.
In my testing, I found it relatively easy to uninstall the Ask Search extension from both Chrome and Safari, although an unsophisticated user might be intimidated by the process. In both cases, however, the home page remained set to an Ask search page and had to be manually changed.
Oracle has updated its installation instructions for the Mac installer to acknowledge its partnership deal with Ask. The mention of the Ask deal does not appear in the most recent previous version of the same page, saved at the Internet Archive a month ago.
Oracle's timing in introducing adware with Java for the Mac comes on the heels of Lenovo's disastrous scandal with the Superfish adware. Despite numerous requests, Oracle has refused to remove the Ask adware from its Java installer for Windows. With this latest move, the company appears to be doubling down on its commitment to sneaking adware onto PCs and Macs running Java.
IAC, the parent corporation that owns Ask.com, is a diverse organization. It also owns Match.com, Tinder, OKCupid, The Daily Beast, Vimeo, Dictionary.com, and HomeAdvisor, among many others. IAC pays a commission to Oracle and other affiliates that bundle the Ask toolbar.
Adware is a big business. In its most recent annual report, filed in February, IAC disclosed that the Search & Applications Division, which includes Ask, made nearly $1.6 billion in revenue and $311 million in operating income in 2014. "Substantially all of the revenue" from that segment comes from a deal with Google. IAC reported that it paid $883 million, primarily in traffic acquisition costs, to partners who distribute its "customized browser-based applications."
Thanks toRich Trouton, a Mac systems administrator, for first pointing this issue out.