Posted by Virus Bulletin on May 25, 2007
Toolbar partnership accused of devious spyware tactics.
The partnership between search giant Google and hardware behemoth Dell, which has led to the popular Google Toolbar being pre-installed on systems sold by Dell, has been accused of overstepping the bounds of good practice and installing unwanted software alongside the toolbar, which is not only hidden and hard to remove, but also disrupts proper browsing standards to divert extra funds into Google's advertising coffers.
Google has been much in the news in recent weeks for its moves to counter malware, with a major report on infected websites and a new blog dedicated to malware fighting and security in general, leading to further speculation that the ever-expanding Google empire plans to move into the anti-virus market sometime soon.
According to OpenDNS founder David Ulevitch, however, behind the scenes they have been party to underhand tactics which cross the line into spyware. Google's 'Browser Address Error Redirector', installed alongside the toolbar on Dell machines but not removed by the same uninstallation process, spots typos in web addresses and redirects to an advertising-heavy search page. There are also some reports of owners of older Dell systems, not originally carrying the hidden item, finding the software installed as part of automated updates to the Google Toolbar.
Ulevitch complains that this behaviour, beyond being simply deceptive, blocks the normal activities of his OpenDNS caching system, which is also designed to spot typos but makes greater efforts to come up with corrections rather than jumping straight to the advertising. The opt-in system, which requires no client-side software, also filters known phishing and malware sites, and promises significant improvements in browsing speeds. It is, however, also funded by advertising income.