Yahoo Toolbar Changes Tack on Adware

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Yahoo last week released the final version of its search toolbar with spyware-sniffing capabilities.


Unlike the test version released in May, the toolbar now searches out adware applications like those made by Claria and WhenU.com by default.


The Sunnyvale, CA, company is bundling Pest Patrol's anti-spyware software for free to Yahoo Toolbar users. Pest Patrol helps users identify and remove unwanted programs on their computer, including programs made by Claria and WhenU that serve pop-up ads tied to users' Web behavior. The Anti-Spy tool provides a list of potential spyware programs and offers users the option of deleting them.


Definitions of spyware vary. Yahoo defines spyware as programs loaded on a user's computer without consent that track Internet behavior and gather information through programs like keystroke loggers and hijackers. Yahoo separates these types of programs from adware, which tracks Internet behavior to display contextual pop-up advertising.


Yahoo's position on adware is complicated by the profit it reaps from Claria -- which took in $28 million, or nearly one-third of its sales -- as a result of clicks on Overture listings it distributes in pop-under windows when users conduct searches. The Claria-Overture relationship dates to March 2003, prior to Yahoo acquiring the company four months later. The agreement expires in September 2007.


The beta version of the Anti-Spy feature searched only for adware when users checked a box. Now Yahoo searches for adware by default and offers probes for tracking cookies, commonly used in online advertising, as another option. The toolbar explains that tracking cookies are not a security threat in a "recommendations" tab next to scan results.


"The changes we have made are all designed to better educate and empower the user with information that identifies and provides descriptions of the categories of spyware that are found on the user's computer," Yahoo spokesman Aaron Ferstman wrote in an e-mail.


Critics of adware companies like Claria and WhenU claim their pop-up advertising software is spyware, a charge the companies vehemently deny. A number of lawsuits are pending against Claria and WhenU, claiming a large portion of their combined 70 million users do not know they have the software.


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