Few people realize that Israel has conquered several internet and information-technology niche-markets. This is true to the extent that most American citizens are unwillingly to share their secrets with the State of Israel. Let me illustrate this with Babylon; on paper it looks like an inoffensive provider of online dictionaries. Yet in the big screenshot above, one can see the home page featured in most Bolivian internet kiosks. It is a Babylon search page, designed to look like a Google search page; note the odd code appearing in its address line (a long string of nonsense numbers and letters, in contrast look at the address of this page), that's the first sign something is wrong. The second sign appears while using it; the computer reacts slowly since it is busy sending data to its Babylonian masters. This happens despite Bolivians being unable to spend money on the web; Bolivian money is not a free floating currency and thus it is banned by the international financial system. This search page is defined as a default in the user's browser while installing Babylon's dictionary. Since the page looks like Google's, few users realize that their home page has been replaced, or that they had clicked on a button asking for this change while installing the dictionary. "Same, same" they say to themselves and begin telling Babylon everything about themselves. The following week, they buy a book named "French Cooking;" a few days later so that they won't be suspicious of the event, they get a pamphlet advertising a French restaurant near their home. In thanks for the blunt violation of privacy, the Babylonian masters in Israel get a few silver coins.
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Babylon is loose change in this market. An offshoot of Golden Pages, the Israeli business phone directory company, Amdocs develops, implements and manages software and services for business support systems, including billing, customer relationship management, and for operations support systems. If your phone company is AT&T, BT Group, Sprint, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Bell Canada, Telus, Rogers Communications, Telekom Austria, Cellcom, Comcast, DirecTV, Elisa Oyj, TeliaSonera or O2-Ireland, then Israel has access to much of your communications and bills, including credit cards numbers. Another key member is Check Point, a provider of software and combined hardware and software products for IT security, including network security, endpoint security, data security and security management. In other words, the supermarket near your home probably uses products from this giant to secure its transactions. Israel has access to all of them.
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This disturbing picture is completed by a plethora of small companies mimicking Babylon, in what is known as the "field of directing users," run by the mockingly called "Download Valley." The method of operation among all of them is similar; they develop freeware applications that cost users nothing to download and use, but that change their customers' computers secretly and viciously, like the dictionary application in the picture. Most customers of these companies are unaware that their computer browser settings are an asset that generates income for many companies (but not for them). This is done through the customization of web-searches through the manipulation of one of five assets: home page, searches in the URL bar, searches in a third-party installed toolbar, a new page tab and the page landed on after typing in a wrong URL. Eventually, this leads to sales and these companies get commissions on them.
The second largest Israeli player after Babylon in this questionable industry is Conduit; the company distributes what is known as a "browser hijacker." The user customized browser-toolbars forcibly change the browser homepage and default search engine and revert to them when the user tries to restore them. Perion, the manager of the IncrediMail, Smilebox and SweetIM brands, is also a significant player. Smaller companies include VisualBee, Montiera, Fried Cookie Software, WebPick, Linkury, Bundlore, iBario and KeyDownload; the latter was founded by Hilla Ovil Brenner, the former CEO of WhiteSmoke. Despite the last group being small, it still makes $10 million per year. This is easy money; hijacking browsers is easier than developing a fair market of customers.
Despite their claiming differently, governments don't care about such thefts. Eventually, they get their taxes, be it from Google or Babylon. Thus, citizens have no chance of being protected by their government. Oddly enough, out of selfish considerations, giant corporations decided to help us, the people. (Is this the first time in history that this has happened?).
By now, most readers probably have a vague feeling of déjà vu. Where did they hear of similarly questionable behavior? Mark Zuckerberg admitted robbing the technologies and design principles that led to the creation of Facebook; he paid many millions to the robbed authors. There may be a common cultural background issue here. The browser-hijacking companies abovementioned are considered nothing but robbers by the giants developing our browsers. Microsoft and Google don't like them; every dollar earned by these robbers is one less dollar in their pockets. Their first reaction came in early 2012, when Google announced that it would not search within pornography or download sites through toolbars installed on a user's browser by an application they have downloaded. On October, Google changed its software downloading policy for those advertising on Google services, requiring advertisers to obtain the express permission of users—called "opt-in"—before downloading software. The Israeli companies subsequently reported between 15 and 20% losses in their revenues.
Hours before Christmas 2012, other giant reacted. Users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer were notified that the home page and other settings of the browser had been adjusted, so that external software would not be changed without the users' knowledge; the changes this time were aimed specifically at the practices of the abovementioned companies. Would Israeli browser-hijacking companies continue taking money from the pockets of the innocents?