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Google-Dell browser tool 'spyware,' charges OpenDNS founder

URL errors redirect Dell users to ad-packed page, 'crappy experience,' says critic

May 23, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A year-old deal between Google Inc. and Dell Inc. produces search results dominated by paid ads instead of the normal links, the founder of OpenDNS said today as he called the Google tool "spyware" and claimed that it degrades users' experiences on the Web.

Almost a year ago to the day, Google and Dell struck an agreement under which the latter installed several Google tools, including its Toolbar and Desktop, on outgoing computers. Dell also set Google as the default search engine in Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer. Among the tools the companies didn't mention last year -- and the one that has David Ulevitch, CEO and founder of OpenDNS, hot under the collar -- is a browser redirector that sends users who mistype a URL or enter a nonexistent address to a Dell-branded page loaded with Google ads.

A Dell user who types "digg.xom" (rather than the correct "") is redirected to a page that sports sponsored links plastered across its top, Ulevitch charged in a blog entry.

"Dell and Google are now installing a program on computers that intercepts all sorts of queries that the browser would normally try to resolve," said Ulevitch. "This program has no clear name and is very hard to uninstall. In some circles, people would call this 'spyware.'"

When questioned on his use of that loaded term, Ulevitch defended the choice in an interview. "One, the user is forced to use this, at least out of the box, and gets a crappy experience for his trouble. At the very minimum, it's adware, but I think it does border on spyware."

The Google-Dell results from a mistyped, truncated or nonexistent Web address differ dramatically from those generated by Google on a PC without the browser redirector, added Danny Sullivan, a noted search analyst and the editor in chief of Typing "Microsoft" minus the ".com" on a Dell brings up a page with five sponsored advertisements preceding the first actual link. Entering "Microsoft" in Google on a non-Dell machine puts a link to the real site at the very top of the page.

"Google could easily direct you to the Microsoft site, but they choose not to here," said Sullivan. "That goes against Google's core mission of organizing the world's information, and is counter to Dell's statement's last year about the Google deal helping consumers. I don't understand the features here that are helping consumers."

While Sullivan doesn't think the browser-error redirector meets the definition of spyware, it may be adware. "But there's no doubt that there are people confused that this is happening," he said.

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