Inquisitor puts affiliate links at top of search results

Inquisitor has been updated as of build 52 to identify affiliate links. See here.

Tonight, I found this post on TUAW that discusses the Inquisitor search plugin for Safari. The plugin gives you a Spotlight-esque result when you use the built-in Google search box, giving you easy access to the top links. It turns out that the program, written by Dave Watanabe, is designed to insert affiliate-linked URL as the “top result” when you search for certain terms. This was initially found by a bloke named Allan and posted on his blog.

As I commented here, there are a specific set of terms which are written into the application that put affiliate linked URLs as the first match. Without the source code, there’s no definate way to see what is going on here. However, using the UNIX command strings, we can look for the various bits of text intermixed into a binary application. The main program doing the work here for Inquisitor is InquisitorCore, buried deep in the bundle. Running strings against this, we find some of the following code… (after the jump)


sony
microsoft
canon
sandisk
linksys
belkin
logitech
quickbooks
parallels
warcraft
elmo
christmas
halloween
xbox
samsung
cingular
verizon
t-mobile
tmobile
kitchenaid
braun
wacom
quicken
turbotax
turbo tax
yamaha
casio
dewalt
weber
powershot
cybershot
panasonic
nikon
coolpix
blackberry
compaq
applecare
netgear
sennheiser
fuji
virus
garmin
playstation
nintendo
exilim
bravia
aquos
gears of war
super mario
final fantasy
pokemon
saddam hussein
paris hilton
neopets
angelina jolie
lindsay lohan
britney spears
fergie
beyonce knowles
shakira
ciara
iwork
ilife
tomtom
hdmi
treo
toshiba
iomega
lacie

Some simple testing confirms if you search for these terms, the very first link will be to Amazon. If you dig further into it, as Allan did, you find these links are affiliate links for the author. I’m kinda suprised by Saddam Hussein being in that list… not a lot of people search for Saddam to find stuff at Amazon.

Further digging finds that if you search for certain Peer to Peer (P2P) terms, you get links to Watanabe’s other applications…


torrent
file sharing
Xtorrent is all about search. Type keywords in and the results show up right in Xtorrent. One click later and you're downloading your content.
Xtorrent (for Mac OS X)
xtorrentp2p.com

http://www.xtorrentp2p.com/

limewire
gnutella
soulseek
edonkey
Innovative Mac P2P.
Acquisition (for Mac OS X)
acquisitionx.com

http://www.acquisitionx.com/

And, later still, you find Apple Store Affiliate links… also designed to appear to be the top search result. I find these the most invasive, since they include marketing blurbs that look like something you’d see in a Google search leading to the Apple Store pages. Note: I have truncated the URLs to save space. Each of these URLs deep link to the product page for the search term. To see the specifics, download Inquisitor and run strings against it.

iphone
iPhone redefines what a mobile phone can do. Tap a number to make a call. Listen to voicemail in any order with Visual Voicemail.
iPhone (Apple Store)
store.apple.com

http://www.kqzyfj.com/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

aperture
Introducing the first all-in-one post-production tool for photographers.
Aperture (Apple Store)

http://www.jdoqocy.com/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

imac
At speeds up to 2.8GHz, the advanced dual-core Intel processors that power every iMac are faster than ever.
iMac (Apple Store)

http://www.anrdoezrs.net/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

macbook pro
Powered by the most advanced mobile processors from Intel, the new Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro is over 50% faster than the original Core Duo MacBook Pro and now supports up to 4GB of RAM.
MacBook Pro (Apple Store)

http://www.tkqlhce.com/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

macbook
Powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo processor at speeds up to 2.16GHz, the new MacBook is the fastest ever.
MacBook (Apple Store)

http://www.jdoqocy.com/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

mac pro
Every Mac Pro packs the power of two multicore Intel Xeon processors.
Mac Pro (Apple Store)

http://www.jdoqocy.com/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

ipod touch
Touch comes to iPod. Introducing iPod touch.
iPod touch (Apple Store)

http://www.anrdoezrs.net/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

ipod nano
A little video for everyone. The new iPod nano.
iPod nano (Apple Store)

http://www.tkqlhce.com/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

ipod shuffle
240 songs. Remixed colors. The new iPod shuffle.
iPod shuffle (Apple Store)

http://www.tkqlhce.com/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

ipod
Hold everything. The new iPod classic.
iPod (Apple Store)

http://www.anrdoezrs.net/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

apple tv
If it's on iTunes, it's on TV.
Apple TV (Apple Store)

http://www.jdoqocy.com/click-2593411-10479833?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstore.apple.com

Doesn’t this seem, you know, shady?

Well, yes. Yes it does… simply because it was not disclosed. There is no EULA displayed when you install Inquisitor. There’s no privacy policy or terms on the website either. If there had been a EULA that said that there were going to be affiliate links, then no one would really have any ground to complain on.

I have uninstalled Inquisitor from my system, even though I registered the application back when it first came out. I should have been more upset when it became a free application (presumably, when affiliate links were added). Now, I’m throughly pissed.

Dave’s always been one of those smart asshole types who makes really shiny software applications. Xtorrent, for example, is the open source Transmission client wrapped in a shiny user interface. Inquisition was slick as well. But, I can live without it. And, judging by the comments on TUAW, I’m not alone.

  • http://on.thehold.net Allan Bonaldi

    Those strings results are really interesting. All the Apple Store links don’t go to Apple, but via some shady bunch called “Commission Junction”. To me, that’s somehow much worse than just Amazon referrals.
    Eugh!

  • http://thegraphicmac.com Jim

    What a sneaky bastard. Thanks for the heads-up on this. I actually have Inquisitor installed, but that will only be for a few more minutes now.

  • Franze

    I´ve noticed the top-rated comercial links for certian search strings already for some time but i suggested it was a google related issue.
    Anyway, thanks for the info.

    I´ll deinstall Inquisitor right now.
    Franze

    Ich habe häufigen kommerziellen Links als erste Suchergebnisse schon länger bemerkt, aber dies immer für ein Google-Problem gehalten.
    Danke für die Information.

    Inquisitor fliegt sofort von meinem System.
    Franze

  • Yuki

    Another application that I believe he does in, is Xtorrent.
    I’ve noticed while searching for certain things, that his apps, or amazon related merc comes up first.

    This wouldn’t be so if I was using XTorrent on trial, and hadn’t already paid for.
    But having paid, It would be nice to opt-out (if you were even informed) and not be making DW any more $$$ behind the scenes.

  • http://mike.essl.com essl

    I have to say I think this guy deserves to make some cash. I was surprised to NOT see the affiliate code in the amazon searches. I’m glad he figured out a way to make cash.

  • http://www.recompiled.org/ Joe Eversole

    If somewhere on the website, it said “To keep Inquisitor free, it will sometimes recommend links to Amazon where the author earns commission. This can be disabled in the settings tab.” Something along those lines (and adding in something about the Apple store).

    I’m not saying the dude’s gotta make a living… which is why it was shareware in the beginning. When he decided “Hey, I bet I could probably make the cash back by inserting Amazon affiliate links,” he should have said something about it then.

  • Best P2P

    lol. I used to use Inquisitor quite a while back. I never knew about this shady stuff done to it.

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