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My post earlier this week about STOPzilla bundling the Ask Toolbar deserves some correction.

It turns out it’s not a specially-branded version of the Ask Toolbar (unlike the case of WebRoot and ZoneLabs).

It’s their own toolbar, which uses Ask search results (Ask pays for so-called “search syndication”, deals that generate traffic to their search engine).

The STOPzilla folks argue it’s a horse of a different color (their note here). But is it a horse of that color (as Maria argued)? (Sorry for the obscure Shakespeare references, I know I’ve lost half my audience, but it makes the blog more entertaining for the other two people who read this blog.)

Here’s why it’s still a questionable decision:

  • It’s a pre-checked option. Yes, this gets hazy, because it’s “their program”. But… still, it’s bothersome.
  • And it is a partnership with Ask, a questionable venture on the part of a security company. Now that part is also bothersome. The Google or Yahoo Toolbars haven’t been installed through security exploits.

Ask (formerly Ask Jeeves) has had a history. Now, as far as I can tell, the company has been clean for some time now. They have made dramatic, and often impressive improvements, and I recognize their work, and the genuine hard work of Ask’s Kirk Lawrence. (Uber-spyware fighter Ben Edelman does claim that he recently got an install of an Ask toolbar without any notice or consent, but I haven’t verified this claim.)

So Ask really has made a real effort to clean things up and it shows. And the search engine itself is harmless.

I do understand STOPzilla’s point. It’s not the Ask Toolbar per se. It really is their own toolbar, and all it’s doing is using Ask search results. Fair enough. But is this a prudent move, being that they’re a security company? Does it show too much effort to monetize their customer base, rather than focus on good security? Does it show poor institutional memory, jumping in the sack with Ask? Or is it harmless and simply good business sense on their part?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

Alex Eckelberry
(Adrian Kingsley-Hughes at ZDNET weighs in on the bundling issue as well.)