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Dell has rejected allegations that its PCs come pre-loaded with an intrusive application that spies on users' surfing habits. The equipment manufacturer said there was nothing untoward about My Way Search Assistant despite complaints from customers that the toolbar impairs computer performance, changes browser settings and is difficult to remove.

The inclusion of My Way on Dell's Dimension desktop and Inspiron notebooks has prompted complaints to Dell's support pages, numerous gripes in online bulletin boards and even an accusation that the package is spyware. The latter accusation greatly overstates other assessments of the nuisance level posed by the application.

Anti-spyware firm Sunbelt Software defines My Way components as a "potential privacy risk" that pose a moderate threat to users.

"MyWay Speedbar is a search toolbar that installs into Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, adding search functions and popup blocking. MyWay Search Bar is a toolbar that is added to the major web browsers. While it has some desired features, it does anonymously report your surfing activity when on a Myway or Myway affiliated site, helping their product serve you targeted advertising based on surfing habits of its users. Based on their End User License Agreement, they may also choose to correlate the anonymous surfing habits with your personal profile if you sign up for anything while on their sites," it said.

A Dell spokesperson said concerns about the product were misplaced. "My Way is not a spyware product and it does not monitor user's behaviour. It's a toolbar that displays relevant search results in response to search queries," she said. "You can disable the product using the options menu."

My Way Search Assistant is marketed by developer AskJeeves through Dell (see here) and other partners. Information on removing components of the utility can be found here. ®

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