Theater of War 2 demo + Adware. Available now!
Word on the street is that the Theater of War 2 demo is out! I was planning on playing and writing up a bit of an AAR along with impressions, but before I’d even got it installed I noticed an interesting observation from forum poster flyinj on QuarterToThree.com. What he observed is that when you install the demo (or, reportedly, just about anything from Battlefront), the demo wants to install a “Battlefront Toolbar”. “Toolbar?” I hear you say. Yes, those things that were all the vogue for marketing companies back in 2003 and are now considered homes of spyware, adware and general evilness. So what’s the story with this thing? Read on for our analysis.
As you go to install your demo you’ll skip past the license agreement (there’s an interesting line in there, by the way, see if you can find it) and hit this info screen with interesting text at the bottom:
The text describes the toolbar, here it is in full for the hard of squinting:
Battlefront.com Internet Browser Community Toolbar:
This new game demo includes the optional install of a new, and we think, exciting tool. This tool seamlessly attaches to your Internet browser (currently Microsoft Internet Explorer and Firefox supported) and gives you instant access to Battlefront.com game news, patches, demos, chat channel as well as other popular browser toolbar *gadgets* such as real-time weather reports (unique to your hometown!), a spell checker and pop-up blocker. Fully user configurable and expandable, your new Battlefront.com Community toolbar unlocks the full potential of your Internet browser to keep you connected with the ever-growing world of Battlefront.com games and resources! You can fine more details on this new free utility here: http://www.battlefront.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=388&Itemid=212
Sounds pretty normal, I suppose, as normal as one expects from Adware toolbars. I’m impressed to see it has amazing features like spell checking (already in Firefox) and pop blocking (already in both current browsers, I believe), amazing! If you follow the link you get to a fairly detailed page of info on Battlefront.com.
From there you get the browser bar option. Everything is ticked by default:
And then the browser bar install itself, which looks like this:
For what it’s worth the license is unremarkable. Once installed, your browser will pop up with the browser bar installed and a welcome page:
And now, lucky you, you’ll have the browser bar installed! But does it do anything bad? Well, one can use it to keep up to date with Battlefront’s news, join an (empty) chat channel or engage in a myriad of eCommerce related things through the clicking various buttons. Of interest is what happens when you conduct a search using its search box. Here I searched for afteractionreporter.com:
Using WireShark to watch the traffic one notices that instead of heading off to Google to pull results your search is routed through a server owned by Israeli company Conduit. Conduit is the company behind this browser bar and it seems they love to return your Google’s results, but populated with their ads (and not Google’s, I note)! Lucky you! So, instead of getting straight Google results from their search bar you get Google results plus about ten spammy ads at the top of the search list. No doubt this is how Conduit makes money – along with all of their sponsored weather and shopping links.
So is the toolbar really evil? Well, we can’t see anything particularly worrying about the traffic generated by the bar, other than the ad-bloated Google results, but we haven’t dug around too much. I would be interested to know if Conduit monitors your browsing, the bookmarks you add to the bar and other bar activity. Thankfully, the uninstall process is quick and easy and I can’t see any evidence of anything worrying left behind.
By all accounts Conduit is a “legitimate” eCommerce company, well, as legitimate as you feel anyone who installs browser bars can be, but the question is, why is Battlefront using their service? I imagine the Battlefront developers naively think this is some sort of nice community building tool, but for me the browser bar idea is extremely odd. If Battlefront wanted to help me stay in touch with their latest news, how about leaping into the 21st Century and RSS-enabling their news/home page? They’ve already managed it for their blog, after all?
To me, this browser bar idea feels amateurish and indicates that Battlefront don’t really understand their audience (or at least, not me). What’s more, were I new to Battlefront, packaging the bar with a demo doesn’t exactly build my confidence in their professionalism. What do you think?
ps. I expect a few Conduit spam-bots will turn up. Wherever the browser bar is mentioned on the web you get a series of slightly-mechanical feeling promotional comments by “users”. Fingers crossed some of them turn up!