Ask Jeeves has been in the news several times recently. In May Ben Edelman asked "Does Jeeves Ask for Permission?" Ben documents a number of instances of misleading installations at websites targeted to children and a few installations through security exploits that were totally lacking in notice, disclosure and consent. Former Spyware Confidential blogger Wayne Cunningham wrote "Ask Jeeves for adware" in April and in June Newsweek's Brad Stone wrote about Ask Jeeves after he received an unsolicited, non-consensual install of Ask Jeeves' MySearch toolbar. In fact, Stone says he had no idea how he got it. Ask Jeeves' products include MyWay Speedbar, MyWebSearch, MySearch Bar and FunWeb Products Smiley Central, CursorMania, FunBuddy Icons, MyFunCards and a few others.
Recently representatives from Ask Jeeves have been busy contacting anti-spyware vendors and people in the anti-spyware community, apparently trying to polish up their tarnished image and trying to get delisted from their databases. eWeek reports the story and states that besides Sunbelt, FaceTime, Inc. was also contacted for targeting Ask Jeeves software. The issue is not about Ask Jeeves' software being adware or spyware. It's about consent and disclosure. Paperghost sums it up nicely.
Nobody is calling any of Ask Jeeves' software "Spyware". The problem is (once again) distribution. For me, the only real issue is:
How did it get on my machine, do I want it, and if not, can I get rid of it.
If it fails all of the above, then it sucks. If not, then it doesn't suck. If it fails some (but not all) then it only semi-sucks.
Sunbelt Software published a detailed white paper (30 page PDF) today with the results of their research and recommendations for targeting Ask Jeeves' products. The answers: Several of Ask Jeeves' products have been reclassified from "adware" to "potentially unwanted applications" with a threat level of "low". They will remain in Sunbelt's database due to their installation practices including poor, or lack of, notice, disclosure and consent. I anticipate a response from FaceTime soon as well. In the eWeek article, Richard Stiennon of Webroot, makers of Spy Sweeper, states that they do not have Ask Jeeves' products in their database. Eric Howes' recent tests with 12 anti-spyware applications' detections of Ask Jeeves products shows that 7 applications detect all or some of them and 5 do not detect them at all.
I'd be interested to hear readers' experiences with Ask Jeeves' software and opinions regarding whether or not it should be detected by anti-spyware programs.