It looks as if the problem is going to get worse in the near future because a lot more marketing companies are starting to turn to this tool.
Earlier this year I wrote about scumware, the generic term for various kinds of software that hides on your PC and displays ads and/or reports on your online behavior. Well, it looks as if the problem is going to get worse in the near future because a lot more marketing companies are starting to turn to this tool.
For example, in September Webmasters started noticing server log entries for browser requests in which user agent strings - the text strings that describe the browser and its platform - also included the text "FunWebProducts." These were all from Internet Explorer Web browsers, and the strings looked like this: "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.01; Windows NT 5.0; FunWebProducts)."
The root of the problem was a piece of software called, not surprisingly, FunWebProducts distributed by Fun Web Products.
This company's Web site is actually a collection of links to separate product Web sites published by Fun Web Products, such as www.smileycentral.com, which offers a tool for embedding smileys in e-mail messages, and www.popswatter.com, which blocks pop-up ads.
Sounds like good clean fun but hold on. According to the FunWebProducts End User Licensing Agreement: "All of our applications come with the MyWebsearch browser plugin - a customizable browser toolbar which provides end users with easy access to search results from the best search engines on the Internet in just one click and enhances your browser experience by providing relevant links and results in response to misspelled or incorrectly formatted browser requests."
So while the FAQs for most of these products claim "includes no spyware and no adware," what the included MyWebsearch code actually does is "help" you with "suggestions" when you get "lost." Right.
But that's not all. According to PestPatrol, FunWebProducts makes it difficult to uninstall the software and hijacks your browser by setting your home page to point to sites of the company's choice. Worse still, FunWebProducts attempts to reset the browser home page should you dare to try to change it. And even worse, FunWebProducts slows your browser and could, according to some people online, make your browser unstable.
FunWebProducts is notable because it has acquired a large user population with remarkable speed. The owner, IWon, is not new to this game - it is responsible for a series of notorious adware products, including IWon, iWon Co-Pilot, iWon Search Assistant and MySearch/MyWeb.
Why have users installed so many copies of FunWebProducts? Probably by dint of widespread advertising. And when you hit the Web site, all of the links to the product sites immediately try not once but twice to get you to install the software!
You have to admit there's a slickness to the whole idea: Offer users gadgets that will amuse them and then modify the way their systems operate for commercial advantage.
Now I'm not against such objectives as long as - and this is the crucial issue - there's nothing sneaky going on. We all can agree that as soon as companies do anything duplicitous like this - such as trying to get users to install the software with little or no explanation about what the software actually does - they are behaving unethically.
And when sneaky stuff is going on there will be consequences, as this kind of software can not only cause browsers to perform slowly, it also can degrade overall system performance, cause other applications to misbehave and damage Windows configurations.
So what are we going to do about scumware? Tune in next week . . .
Tales of the indefensible to firstname.lastname@example.org.