What is “Ask.com” and how did its toolbar get into my browser?

Ask logo

The “Ask” logo. Beware.

Ask.com is a search engine, so you would expect it to be similar to Google, Bing, Yahoo Search, and DuckDuckGo.

Superficially, it is the same. The main obvious difference is that Ask.com (that has now gone back to calling itself “Ask Jeeves”) provides information by responding to questions – eg “What is the nickname of Lincoln City football club?“.

Apart from the fact that it doesn’t actually answer the question in any meaningful way, there are many claims around the internet that the results from Ask.com are inferior, that paid listings are disguised as free listings, and that they engage in dodgy practices. One of these, for instance, is that the white space around a paid ad is also “clickable” such that clicking in the white space will take the visitor to the advertised web page unintentionally (source).

Ask Jeeves logo

One incarnation of the “Ask Jeeves” character. Not as harmless and friendly as he looks.

Probably more importantly, though, Ask manages to install an insidious “toolbar” onto your browser without your explicit permission. There are companies out there who have done a deal with Ask whereby installing or upgrading that company’s product will cause the Ask toolbar to be installed unless you explicitly untick a check box. This is underhand, devious, nasty. What is worse, another thing that happens is that Ask may “take over” the entire “search” function of your browser and may even set itself as your browser’s home page.

I have also read of a shameful practice whereby there is a time delay between installing something that has dragged “Ask.com” along with it, and the manifestation of “Ask.com” in your browser. So, when it does make itself known to you, you won’t make the connection with the action that introduced it. This is unforgiveable. I can think of no legitimate purpose for this time delay. Without reservation, I advise all my computer support clients to uninstall Ask.com and its toolbar. None of them has ever protested!

Most antimalware programs (such as Malwarebytes) consider Ask.com and its nasty toolbar to be “PUPs” – ie “Potentially Unwanted Programs”. This means that they are (rightly) classified as malware and antimalware programs will offer to remove all traces of Ask.

If you should happen to inadvertently introduce it onto your computer it can be tricky to get rid of it. There’s not enough room in this post to go into detail about all of the possibilities for removal, but these are the general areas to check out:

  • On a Windows computer, check out the Control Panel’s “Programs and Features” to see if there’s anything there that you can uninstall (there may be, or there may not be). In Windows XP (tut tut, if you are still using it), look for “Add and Remove Programs” in the Control Panel.
  • In your browser, look for the option that lets you stipulate your chosen search engine and change it from Ask.com.
  • If it’s hijacked your home page, then look for the option to change that as well.
  • Run an antimalware program (such as malwarebytes) and confirm that you would like the program to remove it after it has been identified.

The best way to stop it getting onto your computer in the first place is to be very careful when installing ANY software that there isn’t a notice (with a ticked box) saying it will install Ask.com or its toolbar. If there is such a box, make sure you untick it.

Also, be very careful downloading anything at all from software download sites such as Softonic, Brothersoft, or Cnet. They have their own “installers” that will try and sneak rubbish like Ask.com past you when installing something else. I have deliberately not provided hyperlinks for those three sites as I don’t encourage anyone to use them. Always, always, always, try to download software from the site of the creators of that software. Downloading from anywhere else means that you run the risk that devious sites will try and sneak something past you.

Lincoln Imp

The Lincoln Imp

Sorry if all of this sounds a bit negative, but this is the reality. The internet is global and it’s open to all. That means that it attracts the morally-challenged as well as decent companies and people. I wouldn’t want to put anyone off from using the internet. That would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Nevertheless, we do have to be careful whenever we download anything.

Note that there is a comprehensive guide to removing Ask.com at Malwaretips.

Answer: “The Imps” or “The Red Imps”. Why? – see http://lincolncathedral.com/visit-us/lincoln-imp/

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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