Monday, October 16, 2006

"Ask" and you shall . . .

Accept "Ask's" offer for free smilies, screensavers or cursors and you shall also receive a toolbar.

Ben Edelman explains in an interview with Microsoft MVP, Suzi Turner, the acceptance of the toolbar is included in the EULA (End User License Agreement) when clicking through the process of downloading the "free" smilies or cursors. However, in response to Suzi's questions, Ben goes on to explain:
"The problem is that users' "consent" is obtained under false pretenses. Ask gets users' attention with the promise of free tidbits that some users do indeed want. Once it has their attention, it switches them over to something else — namely, free tidbits plus a bundled toolbar."
Through the use of a clear comparison between the unfair and deceptive trade practices of a 1976 FTC case (Federal Trade Commission v. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 87 F.T.C. 421) , Ben showed the analogy between Ask's methods and those of Encyclopaedia Britannica salesmen, where, as Ben describes:
"The initial offer was so different from the resulting deal that the confusion can't be cured by a subsequent disclosure. which may have bee The initial offer was so different from the resulting deal that the confusion can't be cured by a subsequent disclosure."
Although the cited FTC case was before Ben's time, it wasn't before mine. I remember the Encyclopaedia Britannica salesmen and believe my parents may have purchased a set. Oh, and I remember the Fuller Brush Man too, but that's a bit off topic.


Please read the complete interview and then Ben's full report linked below.
When you read Ben's report, notice in particular how the ads are targeted at teens and preteens who certainly are not likely to read the EULA, or even understand it if they did. They would most certainly miss the information in the license that Ask's toolbars are not to be installed by users under age 13, or by users under 18 unless they obtain parental consent. Remind your children once again about checking with you before agreeing to any installations from the internet.

To help you analyze the EULA, consider installing JavaCool Software's EULAlyzer
1.1. The software will not provide you with legal advice, but it will call your attention to questionable wording. From the website description:

"EULAlyzer can analyze license agreements in seconds, and provide a detailed listing of potentially interesting words and phrases. Discover if the software you're about to install displays pop-up ads, transmits personally identifiable information, uses unique identifiers to track you, or much much more.

The Benefits

  • Discover potentially hidden behavior about the software you're going to install
  • Pick up on things you missed when reading license agreements
  • Keep a saved database of the license agreements you view
  • Instant results - super-fast analysis in just a second
And with additional features like the EULA Research Center, which optionally allows users to anonymously submit license agreements they scan to help us to further improve the program, everyone can be a part of the effort to make something that used to be so tedious, so easy."


Ben Edelman, "Current Practices of IAC/ASK Toolbars"
Ben Edelman, "Does Jeeves Ask for Permission?"
Suzi Turner, "Edelman on 'Deceptive Door Openers' and Ask toolbars"

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