By Dancho Danchev
On their way to attract new users, adware providers and online marketers often come up with new and creative ideas tailored to average Internet users. These often include free screensavers, browser plugins, toolbars, and that’s just for starters.
In this post, we’ll profile the market proposition of one of these online advertisers, previously known as a vendor of adware toolbars, and discuss what has changed over the years.
Following my research into adware serving pop-ups at popular Eastern European torrent trackers, what I also came across to while researching them, was heavy advertisement on behalf of MyWebSearch part of the Mindspark Interactive Network Inc. in the form of a toolbar allowing you to create a cartoon of your photo.
Screenshot of a sample ‘Create a Cartoon of You’ page:
Initially, when I saw that Starnet Interactive Inc. is part of Mindspark Interactive Network Inc, I immediately become suspicious as in the past they were well known for distributing adware toolbars to their users. What has changed? Is the latest version of their toolbar still classified as adware? What happens once you install the toolbar? Let’s find out.
The toolbar installer is currently detected by 10 out of 41 antivirus scanners as AdInstaller.FunWeb; Win32:FunWeb-J [PUP]; Riskware/MyWebSearch; not-a- virus:WebToolbar.Win32.MyWebSearch.rh, and has the following MD5: 7158f4783884851d0a27132c64acfc57
Clearly, a decent percentage of antivirus vendors are still detecting the latest version of the toolbar as a ‘potentially unwanted program’ in an attempt to protect end and corporate users from themselves. How is Mindspark Interactive Network Inc. monetizing the traffic?
Based on the toolbar’s description they do so by “providing sponsored listings in the same fashion as Google and Yahoo. We also display advertising on select Web pages. This business model lets us create fun, easy-to-use products with wide-ranging content for you to enjoy on an ongoing basis.” As you can see, although the company is no longer serving pop ups to users, it still reserves the right to display advertising on select Web pages, next to collecting all the search queries that you enter in their search engine.
For the sake of your privacy, and integrity of your PC, we recommend that you do not install the cartoon making toolbar, instead consider using a free online photo editing service that can apply the same filters to your photos.