While none of the toolbars track users like spyware, Edelman said that some of the Ask Jeeves partners distributing them use download tactics that are similar to spyware purveyors. "Ask Jeeves is not spying but is using lousy installation tactics," he said.In the past, the MySearch toolbar also has been included as part of the Kazaa peer-to-peer installation. While it is disclosed during installation, the toolbars licensing terms are hidden, Edelman said. Ask Jeeves is aware of Edelmans findings and has begun taking action with its partners. The company is working with iMesh to improve the processes it uses for disclosing information about the toolbar download, said Colby Zintl, an Ask Jeeves spokesperson. "This is a larger industry issue about the need to improve the disclosure and installation practices," Zintl said. "Its our responsibility, ultimately, to make sure that partners comply with our policies." The company previously had severed ties with an unnamed partner that had distributed an Ask Jeeves toolbar download called SmileyCentral through banner ads, Zintl said. Edelman also had criticized Ask Jeeves for promoting SmileyCentral through banner ads that hide links to software licenses. To Edelman, the larger problem with both the IBIS and Ask Jeeves toolbar examples is that Googles ads help to fund practices that undermine Googles own best practices. Googles advertisers also are often unaware that their ads may appear on sites that are distributing spyware or using questionable practices. "Googles advertisers are really being led astray here by Google saying, We will show ads on high-quality partner sites and you can trust us," Edelman said. "Google is showing these ads any way that they can make a buck." Google isnt the only provider of search-based ads to face criticism surrounding spyware and adware. Yahoo Inc. has a partnership with Claria Corp. to distribute Yahoos sponsored-link ads. Claria is well-known for displaying ads through software labeled as adware. Last year, Yahoo faced accusations of favoring adware in its own Anti-Spy spyware-blocking tool before changing default settings in Anti-Spy. Dave Methvin, the chief technology officer at PC Pitstop LLC, also has observed examples of Googles sponsored listings appearing in places that violate Googles terms with publishers and its principles. He wants the search company to do more to tackle the problem, including demonstrating publicly that it is enforcing its policies. PC Pitstop, a Dakota Dunes, S.D., company that runs a Web site for PC diagnostics, runs ads through Google AdWords and displays sponsored listings on its site, Methvin said. "If the only penalty for being caught is a tsk, tsk, then they will just change their name and the next month will be doing the same thing," Methvin said of spyware and adware purveyors. Methvin acknowledged that Google would be hard-pressed to catch all examples of misused ads but said that the company could make it easier for its publisher partners and users to report questionable use of Google ads. "Though Google puts on a brave face, to a great extent its almost impossible to stop this fraud," he said. Editors Note: This story was updated to included comments from an IBIS executive and additional comments from Edelman. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
In one case, an Ask Jeeves toolbar is bundled with a peer-to-peer program called iMesh, but users are only informed of the toolbar download in fine print on page 27 of a 56-page license, Edelman wrote in his report.