Ask Toolbar is changing the Firefox add-on process

Note: This is my personal opinion and is not meant to reflect Mozilla’s views.

We’ve done a lot of work to help Firefox users have control over their add-ons (for example, bug 596343 and follow-ups 693743 and 693698) but some software companies are hard at work circumnavigating these protections. A while ago I filed bug 721258 concerned about the way the Ask Toolbar changes our 3rd party add-on confirmation screen. Today, in a follow-up comment I posted this screencast which shows an example of it in action:

Planet Mozilla viewers – you can watch this video on YouTube.

Some suggested that this isn’t that bad or that it could be worse. As someone charged with looking out for our users it’s pretty frustrating to run into that kind of opposition – just take a look at our support forum. Ask is known for this kind of stuff. And in fact, “how do I uninstall the Ask toolbar” is their top support question. It looks like we can’t do anything technical to prevent this at the moment. Maybe by drawing attention to it we can come up with another solution that protects people.

Clarification: At the end of the video, when I’m trying to fix the location bar search – the problem is that “domain guessing” is happening when it shouldn’t be (documented here).

17 thoughts on “Ask Toolbar is changing the Firefox add-on process

  1. I don’t see how that’s any different from overlaying the entire warning with some fake EULA. This is late-90s level obnoxious. Blacklisting the Ask Toolbar and anything else from whatever gutter-scrapers still work there immediately would not be an excessive response to this. I’d certainly hope that the plan from MoCo is not to let this lie until the next release (although given the constant reinsertion of Yahoo and Bing search providers every upgrade I am not actually optimistic MoCo will do the right thing here).

  2. Last time I saw ask-crap installed on a computer on perfectly working condition, it crashed flash every time it was required.

    Only in Firefox though.

    So, yeah, blacklist everything ask would be the way to go.

  3. I think , the “keyword.URL” about:config pref was changed , coz now you were getting firefox page directly instead of google’s result (Google’s i’m feeling lucky does that , something how firefox prior to version 4 used to work) …

    Maybe Ask toolbar extension makers thought this keyword.URL thingy was the same as prior to Firefox 4’s release…

  4. Hi!

    On my friends computers to solve the last problem you had I usually go to about:config, order by status, and reset to the defaults everything that in the value field has anything related to “ask” (or any other bs they have installed). See, no need to create a new profile ;)

    Cheers!

  5. I’m curious if you saw the Ask prompt again when you created a new profile.

    I got tired of being prompted to install add-ons installed by software (ZoneAlarm for example) that I’ll never use every time that I created a new profile so fortunately I found a fix. It involved editing some registry keys in Windows.

    Anyway, that’s all just outrageous. The term highjacking comes to mind.
    It used to be that you couldn’t get your add-on to pass validation on AMO if it didn’t uninstall cleanly, but they’ll be the first to tell you that 3rd party providers are the most difficult to police and a whole lot of users install add-ons by other means and from places other than from AMO. Unknowingly sometimes.

    If an add-on reflects poorly on Firefox such as this one does then it should be blacklisted. Add-ons are supposed to enhance the browsing experience plus users blame Firefox and not Ask.

    As far as their little billboard, it isn’t literally circumnavigating, but it is pushing the limits.

  6. besr, bogas and João,
    It appears that none of the normal about:config preferences like keyword.URL were changed. I did go back to the original profile, restarted in safe mode and reset all user preferences though and that solved the problem. More info in these comments.

  7. If a FAQ is how to restore home page and default search engine, how about a restartless add-on that will do it for you?

    • I would love a restartless add-on that reset this stuff for you. That’s a nice short-term workaround. Ultimately, it would be great to prevent this stuff to begin with and give users a easy, discoverable way to recover if it happens anyway.

  8. I agree that the Ask Toolbar should be blacklisted for this. Doing stuff like this is outrageous. If an add-on doesn’t positively affect user experience, blacklisting is a must.

  9. Please Mozilla, give us some way to block installation of the “Ask curse”
    I’ve only had to remove this once or twice, but each time it’s a major schlep.
    We need a way to stop this thing installing. (perhaps we should just nuke the site from orbit- it’s the safest way)

  10. Enter “about:config” in address bar and pres enter, now change search option by google and restart your Mozilla firefox to resolve your problems.

  11. Hi Verdi,

    On another note: It would also be possible for an application to install its search plugin into the Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\searchplugins folder. Once installed it would be added into the search bar on any new profile as well as on the existing profile once Firefox is restarted. The behavior of Manage Search Engines > Restore Defaults also changes to reflect this new addition(s). Is this by design? Also, once installed as a search bar option it would be possible for the application to embed its value in browser.search.defaultenginename and direct the location bar searches.

  12. My computer has been infected by this Ask parasite, would it be too much to ask that someone devise a small program to eradicate this and protect computers from future unauthorised intrusion.

  13. Does any body actually know how to get rid of this pest? Don’t mention the ‘uninstall’ route, that’s the first thing I tried. All these other daft ideas are equally useless. In the end I trashed Firefox and went back to IE9. That seems to have done the trick so far. By the way, it is worth mentioning that I did not download this program it sneaked in while I was doing a normal internet search. The anti virus bods could do us a favour and write an antidote to it.

    • Hi mick,
      I need to make a video about this but to be clear, the Ask toolbar (or any other toolbar) didn’t sneek in while doing a search. They were probably bundled with other software that you or someone else installed on your computer. It’s amazing how tricky they can be. I’ve fallen for it myself.

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