Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Ask Jeeves Stopping Paid Search Inclusions

Years ago, when they first started up, I used to do volunteer testing for Ask Jeeves and was a true fan of their service. However, I got quite tired of weeding through the output of search queries because of the paid inclusions and quit. One look at almost any query return was enough to convince me they weren't "kosher".

Now, in a move I find startling and probably courageous, Ask Jeeves is stopping paid inclusions in search results. "We're never going to mix church and state again," said an Ask Jeeves spokesman. The company has found that paid inclusions to search results "negatively affect the search experience", which I personally would characterize as understatement of the first water.

News stories announcing this change in policy paint it as a move to distance the Ask Jeeves services from those of rival Yahoo. As I could care less about the rivalry between search engines and only want decent searches when I ask for them, I prefer to see this as a pro-consumer move and to hell with the "true" motive.

I intend to give Ask Jeeves a bit of time to implement the change, then go back there and try what was once my primary means of searching again.


Monday, March 01, 2004

Gone Phishing

I got a phishing spam, this afternoon.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, "phishing" refers to unsolicited emails directing a person to a site crafted to resemble a familiar one, in this case, eBay, in the hope that the recipient of the email will respond to the fraudulent request to "update" their account information.

( I MUST say at this point that, though the email I received purported to be from eBay and the link inside the message looked to the uneducated eye to be one from eBay, neither eBay nor any other reputable concern would do something like this. It's important I state this, lest someone not read closely and associate this company with this scam when they are in fact victims of it.)

Those who do respond are asked to provide credit card details and other personal information, which the crooks can then use to steal identities, etc.

I did go to the url, using a Linux machine running links, a text-only browser, rather than the expected Windows machine running Internet Explorer. (My wife says I can be sneaky when I want to and I guess this proves it.) While there, my browser alerted me to a file the site wished to download to my machine. I declined the download, suspecting it was malicious in some way; perhaps a keylogger or trojan. Though it is almost certain such a file would not infect my Linux machine, being designed to infect a Windows installation, I did not feel like tempting fate. Call me "chicken" if you want.

Shortly thereafter, I provided the Dallas office of the FBI with the email, along with a note detailing my experiences, volunteering as I did to file a complaint, if such were necessary. (And we had a neat game of phone tag getting me the relevant email address for the forward that didn't last long and was actually pleasant--not at all what I expected when dealing with a beaurocracy.)

Now, I don't expect anything to happen because of my actions. This is surely a very small blip on the FBI's radar scope by any reasonable standard. But, if it does, I'll let you know what happens and how it goes.

I've got the FBI email address saved and, from now on, I intend to forward every single scam email I get to them. Perhaps you might consider doing the same. The next Nigerian potentate who wants my help transferring money is going to come to the Fed's attention. I expect that if enough of us do this, some good will come of it. After all, you can't expect the cops to protect us unless they know what they need to protect us from.