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Microsoft deletes older Ask.com browser toolbars, but ignores Oracle's new crapware

Gregg Keizer | June 16, 2015
Microsoft took what appeared to be a shot at Oracle's wallet this month when it switched on search-and-destroy in its security software for older versions of the Ask browser toolbar, which has long been bundled with Java even in the face of users' complaints.

Microsoft took what appeared to be a shot at Oracle's wallet this month when it switched on search-and-destroy in its security software for older versions of the Ask browser toolbar, which has long been bundled with Java even in the face of users' complaints.

But Oracle has sidestepped Microsoft's new policy by changing its Java installer so that it adds a Yahoo browser tool to Internet Explorer (IE).

Microsoft's security products, including the consumer-grade Windows Defender and Security Essentials — the former is bundled with Windows 8.1, the latter is a separate download for Windows Vista and Windows 7 users — now detect and delete earlier versions of "Search App by Ask," a browser toolbar that sets Ask.com as the default search engine in IE and nags users not to change the browser's home or new tabs pages.

Late last month, Microsoft warned developers that as of June 1 its security software would finger programs that engage in "search protection," lingo referring to programs that "prevent or limit users from viewing or modifying browser features or settings." Commonly, those kinds of programs, usually add-ons like toolbars, lock in a search provider and/or a specific URL as the home page — again, typically a search provider's — or try to discourage users from making any changes that the add-on implemented.

Microsoft published the criteria it would use to define "search protection" in December 2014, and at the time said it would switch on detection and deletion on Jan. 1, 2015. For whatever reason, the deadline was extended: About three weeks ago Microsoft said the trigger date would be June 1.

With that deadline now passed, Microsoft's security software will identify and remove older editions of Search App by Ask, the toolbar Oracle bundles with the Windows and OS X versions of Java. By default, the toolbar is installed along with Java; users must notice a warning and deselect the download by unchecking a box.

Ask's toolbar comes in versions for IE, Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox.

Microsoft noted that the newest toolbar will not be eradicated: "The latest version of this application is not detected by our objective criteria, and is not considered unwanted software," the company said in its malware definition for the toolbar.

Ask.com confirmed that its latest toolbar was immune from detection, as Microsoft said. According to sources with knowledge of the Oracle-Ask partnership, the latter had worked with Microsoft for several months to make its toolbar compliant with IE's new rules.

"We enjoyed a long and successful partnership with Oracle," an Ask.com spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "After multiple renewals over the course of several years, we did not extend the relationship upon expiration of the most recent deal."

 

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