Don't Ask.com, don't tell
Yes, I too got tricked by a sneaky Java update into installing the Ask Toolbar. Here's how I got rid of it.
It happened because I wasn’t paying attention. Java wanted to update itself on my laptop (yet again) while I was in the middle of sixteen other things, so I just clicked Next-Next-Next and got on to better things. Then I had one of those oh-no-second realizations. Had I just missed something on that last screen, something selected by default to install that I most certainly did not want?
Yes, there was – the dreaded Ask Toolbar. #&@! me.
Turns out I’m not the only luckless user who’s had this happen to him. ZDnet’s Ed Bott goes into great detail about how Ask.com tries to sneak its toolbar onto users’ systems and what it does once it’s on there, like pollute your search results with dicey ads and hijack your default search engine. He calls this “foistware” (I prefer “sneakware” myself).
Naturally the first thing I tried to do was uninstall the toolbar. So I went to Windows Control Panel and followed the usual uninstall procedure, but to no avail. It wouldn’t budge. I got an error message telling me a key file was missing and could not be found.
The Ask toolbar had lodged itself into the top of Chrome like a tick and would not let go. It seems this is a deliberate strategy to make it harder for savvy users to dump this worthless piece of offal.
Ask.com is part of the massive family of Internet properties owned by IAC – the kind of family you end up with when you breed the guys from Duck Dynasty with a colony of ferrets. Security researcher Ben Edelman has a book’s worth of material on IAC and its slimy practices over the years.
Among IAC’s many properties is Dictionary.com, which holds the record for installing the most tracking cookies at a single go – more than 200, according to the Wall Street Journal.
And of course, Dictionary.com is part of the Ask Toolbar.
After the uninstall attempt failed I tried to live with it for a while, since I don’t use my laptop that often. But then just couldn’t take it any more. Among other things, the Toolbar could not be moved or turned off, so it was obscuring parts of Web sites and emails – like the “send” button in Gmail. So I sent a terse note to Ask.com and got a quick reply with a link to download Ask’s own removal tool. And that finally worked.
I suspect it’s a question they get quite often.
The Ask Toolbar was not the only piece of sneakware I have been inflicted with thanks to execrable and relentless Java updates. Something similar happened on my desktop, which is how I ended up with McAfee Security Scan Plus installed on my system. While it claims to keep your computer secure, the scanner is really just there to scare you into thinking your computer is insecure so you’ll buy McAfee products. (Mine is just fine, thanks.)
I swore off McAfee almost a decade ago, tired of its system-killing software and its shameless promotion of other McAfee products. I see nothing much has changed. Fortunately, uninstalling it proved swift and painless.
The real guilty party in all this is Oracle, which owns Java and really doesn’t need to pull this kind of crap. So I’m sending this message to Larry Ellison.
Oracle made $11 billion in profits last year. I think you can afford to keep Java updated without shoving this sneakware down users’ throats.
I’ll let you know what he says.
Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blogeSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.
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