No fun with FunWebProducts

* Watch out for adware, spyware

As Web application developers, we are in the unique position to see the impact that Web browsing technologies are having on all aspects of PC use. An interesting example of this happened around September 2003 when some Web masters started noticing a significant increase in server log entries of user agent strings from Internet Explorer Web browsers containing the text "FunWebProducts." For example: "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.01; Windows NT 5.0; FunWebProducts)".

It turned out that FunWebProducts (see links below) is an operation of a company called IWon. Its software - a Web application - is essentially yet another piece of adware (often mistakenly called spyware although that is arguably a related subgenre).

FunWebProducts is notable because it acquired a large user population with remarkable speed. Iwon is responsible for a series of notorious adware products including IWon, iWon Co-Pilot, iWon Search Assistant, and MySearch/MyWeb.

The apparent reason for the surge in popularity is that the FunWebProducts code is built into a number of "free" products offered by the same company. These products include Smiley Central, PopSwatter, My Mail Signature, My Mail Stationery, My Mail Stamp, Cursor Mania - all but the last tool (which is a cursor chooser) are "enhancements" for e-mail. By dint of widespread advertising FunWebProducts has managed to sucker thousands of naïve end users into running its software.

According to the FunWebProducts End User Licensing agreement: "ALL OF OUR APPLICATIONS COME WITH THE MYWEBSEARCH(tm) 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 ADDRESS REQUESTS.

"THE APPLICATION ALLOWS YOU TO EASILY ACCESS ALL OF ITS FEATURES AND FUNCTIONALITY DIRECTLY FROM YOUR BROWSER. IT IS ALSO HIGHLY CUSTOMIZABLE AND ALLOWS YOU TO CREATE YOUR OWN BUTTONS AND LINKS."

What FunWebProducts actually does - as do a lot of other adware and spyware products - is to make it difficult to uninstall the software as well as hijack your browser by setting your home page to point to other sites. Worse still, FunWebProducts attempts to reset the browser home page should you dare to try to change it.

The consequences of adware and spyware in Windows systems are serious and the more desktops you have to manage the worse it gets. These programs can cause browsers to perform slowly, can degrade overall system performance, and can damage Windows configurations. They can also cause other applications to misbehave.

This kind of software is generally poorly designed and foisted on unsophisticated users through advertising and promotion that is effectively deceptive about the true nature of the product. In short, it is shameful and deceitful.

I strongly urge you to become familiar with these Web applications and watch out for their appearance within your organization - they are a support headache waiting to happen. You can find out more about removal methods and software to do it for you in the links in the side bar on the right titled "Related links".

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