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)
gears of war
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…
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)
Innovative Mac P2P.
Acquisition (for Mac OS X)
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 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)
Introducing the first all-in-one post-production tool for photographers.
Aperture (Apple Store)
At speeds up to 2.8GHz, the advanced dual-core Intel processors that power every iMac are faster than ever.
iMac (Apple Store)
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)
Powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo processor at speeds up to 2.16GHz, the new MacBook is the fastest ever.
MacBook (Apple Store)
Every Mac Pro packs the power of two multicore Intel Xeon processors.
Mac Pro (Apple Store)
Touch comes to iPod. Introducing iPod touch.
iPod touch (Apple Store)
A little video for everyone. The new iPod nano.
iPod nano (Apple Store)
240 songs. Remixed colors. The new iPod shuffle.
iPod shuffle (Apple Store)
Hold everything. The new iPod classic.
iPod (Apple Store)
If it's on iTunes, it's on TV.
Apple TV (Apple Store)
Doesn’t this seem, you know, shady?
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.