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Is the Ask Toolbar Malware? Maybe Yes, Maybe No...

Over the weekend, I saw an interesting news item on the Windows 10 Forums. Entitled “Ask Toolbar gets the banhammer on Windows,” it observes that “the Ask Toolbar is a bad thing that nobody wants on their PC.” Having been faced with extirpating this toolbar more times than I would like to recall, and having now trained myself to always refuse its “install by default” behavior when updating Oracle Java, I have to agree with the prevailing consensus that whether or not the Ask Toolbar qualifies as malware, it is indisputably unwanted software for most ordinary mortals. It also includes certain built-in persistence features that make its removal more challenging than most people would like.

For the past 5 or 6 months, Microsoft has agreed with this assessment, primarily because prior versions of the Ask Toolbar caused a pop-up window to appear recommending against resetting the default search provider to some engine other than ask.com. The posting from the Win10 Forums folks starts from the presumption that Microsoft now agrees with other assessments of Ask as “unwanted software.” But when I went to visit the Ask listing at the Microsoft Malware Center this morning, here’s what I found there:

winmalask

No sooner found than changed: recent updates to the Ask toolbar cause MS to reclassify the Ask toolbar.

I’m not sure that the current and revised MS assessment is warranted — I concur with the ongoing prevailing consensus that the Ask Toolbar remains at least a major PITA, if not something worse than that — but MS has its rules, and it apparently applies them equally to all contenders. Now that Ask has changed its behaviors to no longer “restrict or limit your control over your search provider” and no longer “prevent[s] you from disabling or modifying your search provider,” MS no longer needs to classify it as unwanted software. But at least from February 12 through June 13 of this year, that’s exactly what they called it, and older versions do still retain that classification. Go figure!

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It's malware. No matter how they change it.  
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I've viewed every “install by default” product that has come with Oracle Java the same way. Hard to grasp why Oracle would align with such providers.
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