Blog Post

Inquisitor alters search results with affiliate links…users go mad

Inquisitor

Sigh. One of my favorite add-ons for Safari, Inquisitor, has unfortunately been removed from my computer.

As reported by TUAW, Inquisitor alters search results to insert the developers affiliate links higher up in the rankings. According to the developer, the affiliate links will gradually move further down the results the more you search for a term and do not click on the links (thus “learning” that you don’t want those links in your search results).

The issue most people seem to be having is that this wasn’t disclosed up front. I have to admit it’s a clever form of displaying advertisements, but I just can’t keep using the app when something as major as altering search results wasn’t disclosed…making me wonder what else wasn’t disclosed.

I, along with every other rational person, understands that bills have to be paid and that some compensation for the developer is a good thing, but transparency in the software business is a necessity if you want people to keep using your apps. Simple as that. People want to know if you’re altering their experience, and yes, altering search results is most certainly altering a users experience without their knowledge.

UPDATE: David was kind enough to drop in and he was correct in pointing out that I left out a link to his response. My mistake. I apologize. Here’s the link to his response about all of this. I would love for David to show where this has been “public knowledge” (implying that this info was easily accessible and known by most people who used the app) before all of this hoopla.

30 Responses to “Inquisitor alters search results with affiliate links…users go mad”

  1. Belle Epoch

    Re Roger’s comment (26): I love Inquisitor, think it’s brilliant, gave a donation.
    Don’t want to uninstall it – just want to go back to a version – I use 3.2(v57)- that works with Safari & doesn’t force me into Yahoo (which, incidentally, I’m finding impossible- just says ‘Loading’ for hours when I type in an address, the blue bar never getting further than ‘ww…’ Infuriating.)

    One blog I read said: “Go to Mackintosh HD/Library/Input Managers/Inquisitor. You will then be able to delete 3.2 & reinstall 3.0. which doesn’t have this problem”
    Maybe I’m just useless, but I couldn’t find a way of doing this when I got there.

    (Re solutions: I’d rather go back to the innocent ad-free version days than onto an update which poss does all the dodgy things it’s being accused of…)

    Can anyone help? Internet’s virtually unusable now so I’m getting desperate.

    (Also, how do I ensure no future sci-fi scenario where it sneakily takes over my Mac & updates itself?)

    Be grateful for any help/suggestions from experienced users. I’m a Macbaby, barely toddling yet – tho’ I may be hitting that tantrum stage v. soon…

    Thanks, Belle

  2. You were right to left out a link to Dave’s statement, it’s no longer online anyway. And Dave still doesn’t inform about the spyware in his software, not on his site, not in the the installer, nowhere.

  3. This is such a storm in a teacup… like Adobe and 207.net just a few weeks ago. As a few people have commented, if it bothers you, uninstall it.

    Personally I feel that DW is just badly liked by a small, very vocal minority. I can understand people’s reasons for not wanting to deal with his future products or whatever, but to skew people’s opinions before they’ve had a chance to form their own isn’t fair either.

    I agree that it sucks that the original Inquisitor page [Google Cache] made no mention of the associate links… but then I wonder how many dollars it has actually made the guy, and I doubt he’s living like a king off it!

    I find the combination of Inquisitor is what has kept me using Safari (not Firefox) all these years, and it’s what will keep me using it.

    Each to their own.

  4. @David: I don’t care if some links are turned into affiliate links etc, if it still helps me find what I I’m looking for. That’s why I still use Inquisitor.

    The problem is that I had no knowledge about this at all. How has this been public knowledge and no problem for over a year David? Where does it say that results are filtered and altered?

    I just checked through all the inquisitor related blog entries on your site, checked the installation files, inquisitor preferences, the inquisitor site and found nothing about this except for the recently added “Search results may be supplemented by Amazon.com and Apple Store links” line of text at the bottom of the page.

    If you really want people to calm down about this then just point us to the place where this information has been available to Inquisitor users for over a year.

  5. This has been blown way out of proportion.
    Inquisitor is free and it extremely useful. There’s no reason to remove the app from your computer. He didn’t tell you bout it, so what? It’s completely free, you have had nothing to lose.

    I’ll keep using this awesome little plug-in.
    Thanks DW.

  6. Piminnowcheez

    Is it really so hard to understand why people are upset about this? A universal of human nature: people don’t like to be deceived, even where the deceipt has little or no practical consequence. Trust is always a gamble, and deceipt equals a lost round.

    DW states the heart of the problem himself: “Ads are treated like any search result.” My searchbar is set to Google. Google returns search results that include ads. But the ads are not “like any search result;” I can tell the difference. If, in Inquisitor, I cannot easily identify what is and isn’t an ad, and if some ads are placed in my results because of the motives not of the ad purchaser, but of the developer, then two deceptions have occurred.

    I like listening to Miles Davis, even though he was personally a bastard, and you don’t have to like a developer to like his software. I like NewsFire, and in any case, I’ve never had any unpleasant interaction with DW, so as far as I know he’s a prince among men. But part of what happens in the shareware market *is personal* – it’s consumers in a niche market interacting with self-employed individuals. In this context, interpersonal interactions count, and over time, they make a reputation that counts. David Watanabe has a reputation, and it’s counting in the way this news about Inquisitor is being interpreted.

    I still like NewsFire and liked Inquisitor, but there’s no reason for me to support someone who’s willing to deceive me when I have other equally good options.

    If you’re mad at DW over this, do yourself a favor and let it go, because the karma has been swift: in one week, Transmission, a free competitor to XTorrent went 1.0 and got a lot of publicity for it; and today, NetNewsWire, a less-pretty but more functional competitor to NewsFire, was declared freeware. The universe has already responded to whatever retributive impulses you might be feeling.

  7. Maybe if it was made obvious that the results are sponsored, folks wouldn’t care? I mean, there are sponsored links at the top and to the side of every Google search. Or even if there was some disclaimer that popped up during installation it wouldn’t be such a big deal?

    DW has made some great software that has benefitted many people. This probably wasn’t the best way to go about things, but I don’t think I’d throw him under the bus for it. I certainly wouldn’t resort to name calling…yeesh.

  8. Yes, transparency is important, and that’s why I’m entirely upfront about it. There’s nothing hidden here, unless you choose to ignore my words for the sake of making a story.

    My central complaint here is that certain blogs are taking something that’s been public knowledge and a non-issue for over a year and sensationalizing it, in a deliberately vindictive manner. You’ll notice that Pigford chose to ignore my comments, without even the courtesy of a simple link. Sure, transparency is important in software, but so is impartiality and balance in journalism.

  9. I decided to check out the dw blog and see what David has to say. He claims that it was public knowledge since the release of v3 if thats the case I don’t see a problem.

    I too decided to check out Dave’s site. There’s always two sides to a story, right? Well I searched all of his blog posts and found nothing at all about the affiliate links. I found nothing about the links in the release notes as well. I did find posts by Dave that I found interesting, this is from his post today:

    Now, I guess people have forgotten that Inquisitor 2 was a shareware product. The release of Inquisitor 3 as ad-supported freeware was a massive risk. I doubt many shareware authors would take a successful revenue-generating product and make it freeware on a whim.

    Here is more fault in his story. If he’s pushing his affiliate links to make the software “ad-supported” freeware he never says so. What he does say, in a couple older posts is:

    June 3, 2007: If you appreciate the continued development of Inquisitor, please consider donating. Donations show me that Inquisitor is appreciated and this helps me in prioritizing it in relation to my other projects.

    Nov 27, 2006: I’m also pleased to note that Inquisitor 3 has now been downloaded 150,000 times since its release 4 weeks ago. Lastly, I’d like to mention that if you think ‘free’ is an undervaluation of this software, there is a donation box to help make up the difference. If Inquisitor has made your life a bit easier, please consider making the box a bit less empty. :)

    Asking for donations is fine. It’s the contradictions that make me wonder.

  10. Please don’t try to sensationalize what I wrote. I in no way said anything about the “world falling” because of this.

    No, but you did take the rather drastic action of removing the app entirely. One of your “favorite add-ons for Safari,” which has apparently lost usefulness because something that you didn’t even notice was brought to your attention.

    Search results are altered because of the app and I didn’t find out about it until now. I’m not really following the mindset of “it’s been like that for a year so it makes it okay”…I just can’t comprehend that.

    I never once said it was okay. In fact, the second sentence of my comment points that out. Read it again. I’m not saying DW is innocent. I’m saying he made a mistake; a relatively minor one, all things considered. He was using a very small set of very specific links. Again, he should have made full disclosure from the get-go, but you’re acting like this is far worse than it actually is.

    Are you a Photoshop user? Are you trashing your copy of Photoshop because it phones home to Omniture? Would you say trashing it is the right response? David’s app is free. Cut the guy some slack.

    I also don’t understand how mine (and others) not knowing search results were altered somehow makes the practice okay to not disclose. Please explain.

    Yeah.. I’m pretty much done with you. While I took the time to read your post (and your comment on my comment), you didn’t pay me the same courtesy.

  11. Andrew Creek

    I have seen a lot of blogging about this situation. I would really like to see some reporting.

    I decided to check out the dw blog and see what David has to say. He claims that it was public knowledge since the release of v3 if thats the case I don’t see a problem.

    This is more of a witch hunt than anything else. He may have some crappy license restrictions for his software. However I just spent 2,500 for CS3 and can only install it twice before I have to contact Adobe so I don’t see the big deal about what he is doing in that arena either.

    I personally use 3 of his apps and have had no problems with them at all (of course I have never had to actually deal with him directly). I think a lot of this is blown totally out of proportion. This seems like he is paying for past sins.

  12. @mike: Welcome to commenting on TAB! :)

    Ultimately it’s a matter of opinion. This is a blog. I (and the other authors) write articles that frequently throw in our opinions and commentary on things. You are certainly free to feel how you want to about this. I think it’s wrong. I wrote about it. You think it’s okay. You wrote about it. Simple as that.

    You are free to read in to what I wrote, but it’s really not that complicated. I don’t like that this wasn’t disclosed, so I’m removing the app and disclosing what Inquisitor does to others. You’re free to do with that info what you please.

  13. Man. I love inquisitor.

    But, it will be gone now. This is a shady deal, you can not pull the wool over users eyes (even on free software) and expect it to just be alright. I remember the Acquisition issue too. No more Dave Wantanabe products for me.

    This fits in with the MacZot vs Garrett Murray debacle, and I don’t think MacZot ever fully recovered from selling the crap out of xpad and then “giving” the app back to Garrett.

    It’s going to take some time getting used to not having inquisitor though. :(

  14. mike_drechsel

    I’ve read TAB for some time now, but have never commented on anything you’ve all published here. I’m going to chime in on this just because I don’t understand what the big deal is. All sorts of search utilities alter results to place particular items up front to get your attention. I challenge anyone to show that ANY search that is performed on any search engine is not skewed in some particular way. Are you going to stop using Google because the links are sorted and filtered? Does Google disclose everything about how particular links end up being displayed in a particular order on the results page?

    The fact that this developer has programmed Inquisitor to place a few links higher in the rankings is of absolutely no consequence. The fact the developer didn’t advertise that this was taking place is also of no consequence. The fact of the matter is that Inquisitor is highly useful on multiple levels, regardless of what is happening behind the scenes. Inquisitor has upped my efficiency in searching the internet by an order of magnitude and the utility of the program is not compromised by the fact that a few links are floated up in the results or that those links are his affiliate links. In your post you say

    Sigh. One of my favorite add-ons for Safari, Inquisitor, has unfortunately been removed from my computer.

    If you’ve chosen to remove it from you system for this reason, then that it up to you. But to spin your removal of Inquisitor as the moral response to what you apparently believe to be an immoral decision by the developer is unfair and is ultimately your own loss.

  15. @Joseph: Please don’t try to sensationalize what I wrote. I in no way said anything about the “world falling” because of this. Search results are altered because of the app and I didn’t find out about it until now. I’m not really following the mindset of “it’s been like that for a year so it makes it okay”…I just can’t comprehend that.

    I also don’t understand how mine (and others) not knowing search results were altered somehow makes the practice okay to not disclose. Please explain.

  16. Dave Wantanabe has gotten into trouble before, for violating the GPL, jerking the beta users of Acquisition around (saying it would be free, and then changing that without warning), and being known for not providing very good support to paid customers (he would ignore emails entirely, or just not respond for extended periods).

    Not surprising. Not surprising at all.

  17. You, and the others reacting to this like you, should be ashamed. Should it have been disclosed? Absolutely. Is it as big a deal as you’re making it out to be? Hardly. DW makes fantastic apps and Inquisitor is one of them. He opted to give it away, and made the unfortunate mistake of not disclosing this particular detail. Inquisitor 3 has been out for well over a year, people are just now finding out about this, and there’s this level of indignation? Are you fscking serious? The ads were so well-integrated that no one figured it out for that length of time. What does that tell you? It tells me that the app is so useful and the ad-serving so well-integrated that until it was brought to your attention you didn’t even notice. And there you sit, acting like the world is falling because the developer of a highly useful application is trying to make a living with it.

    Shameful. Simply shameful. If I were DW I’d lock that app up for good. There’s no reason to give ungrateful bastards like yourself the time.

  18. It’s still a great piece of free software. I have been a user from the beginning, and i noticed that xtorrent (an other app from the same developer) always appear when I search for torrents, but I really don’t mind that I just skip that search result. I’m already happy with transmission :)