Comcast Hijacks Mac Firefox Users' Homepage; Offers Blame Game And Faux Apology In Return

from the operators-are-standing-by-to-apologize dept

As an internet user, chances are you’d like to set your own home page. However, if you’re using Comcast’s internet service and Firefox, Comcast won’t let you do it. Krebs on Security reports that Comcast’s Xfinity software (installed by techs with new accounts) actively hijacks user preferences, redirecting them to Comcast’s home page:

The software is unfriendly to Mac users running Firefox: It changes the browser’s homepage to comcast.net, and blocks users from changing it to anything else.

I heard this from a friend who’d just signed up for Comcast’s Xfinity high-speed Internet service and soon discovered some behavior on his Mac that is akin to Windows malware – something had hijacked his Internet settings. The technician who arrived to turn on the service said that a software package from Comcast was necessary to complete the installation. My friend later discovered that his homepage had been changed to comcast.net, and that Comcast software had modified his Firefox profile so that there was no way to change the homepage setting. 

Trust me, nothing makes your users happier than the feeling that they no longer control their interaction with the internet. It goes further than that, though. The Xfinity software has also been spotted redirecting searches. This gives new users a chance to enjoy that “new internet smell,” while simultaneously worrying that they’ve picked up some malware right out of the box. Not only that, but this so-called “necessary” software isn’t actually necessary.

While Comcast may be concerned about Xfinity’s inability to play nice with Firefox, this just seems like a bad idea all around. When your software mimics the behavior of malware, you’ve failed. Of course, Comcast wants to make things right, which is why they first blamed it on Mozilla:

I contacted Comcast; they initially blamed the problem on a bug in Firefox. Mozilla denies this, and says it’s Comcast’s doing.

“This is NOT a Firefox bug or issue,” a Mozilla spokesperson wrote in an email. “It is a Comcast method that applies preference changes to Firefox.”

Oh. Snap. Come on, Comcast. Level with us:

Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas acknowledged that the Xfinity software hijacks Firefox’s settings. He said the problem is limited to Mac users, and that permanency of the change was unintentional. He added that the company is in the process of correcting the installation software.

“Customers absolutely should be able to change their preferred homepage anytime,” Douglas said. “We’re obviously apologizing for any inconvenience we’ve caused Mac users.”

Cool story, bro. There are several things I find dubious about this statement (“unintentional?”), but nothing is more shady than the phrase “obviously apologizing.” Either you apologize or you don’t, but stop acting like it’s a foregone conclusion. Unless you’ve got your customer service team calling up affected users and apologizing for the inconvenience and offering a fix, then you’re not “obviously apologizing.” Obvious apologies don’t need to be pointed out, especially in the past tense and even more especially after first laying the blame at the feet of Mozilla. 

Not that anyone would expect anything more from Comcast. In fact, they still haven’t offered an official fix, but other presumably pissed off users have already found a workaround. When you leave it to your customers to fix your purposely broken (and “necessary”) software, you’re just further damaging your already in-tatters reputation.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Comcast Hijacks Mac Firefox Users' Homepage; Offers Blame Game And Faux Apology In Return”

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77 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you tell them that the computers in the house are owned by your work and that you will not allow them to install any software on it, they’ll activate the devices with a laptop they bring.

Verizon pulls the same shit, but their software package is just crapware; as far as I know it isn’t actively malicious like this.

Spectere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Last time I dealt with Comcast, they required my roommate and I to set up an appointment to get the Internet service rolling. This was in late 2007 near Baltimore, MD; I’m not sure if anything changed since then.

My defense was to boot my laptop into my Gentoo install and politely tell the technician to deal with it. Shockingly enough, even though the Comcast software wouldn’t install (and yes, he tried it), the Internet connection worked flawlessly.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I used to run residential service calls for Comcast a couple few years ago. They kept their routers in a walled garden setting (ie: only access to Comcast servers) until activated through their internal web page. I don’t recall any software downloads to the customer computer then, all you needed was a browser, an account number and a password if it was an existing account. They must have changed things since then.

Kaden (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Gee… Thanks. That means a lot to me.

Ya think I’d maybe someday have a chance to get on someone’s payroll if I really applied myself? I know I’d have to work on my speling and, punctuaton, and god know my strawman technique has a long way to go, but a fellow can dream, can’t he.

er…You koolaid drinking freetard.

HothMonster says:

Re: but why?

every page view is $$$
the page has their news, links to their shopping sites if they can intercept and take over some of your browsing habits, that will lead to profit

also the article skims over the fact that they are redirecting searches, meaning if you are looking for something and they have an affiliate that sells it they will push you there instead of letting you chose for yourself.

fucking over the customer for a chance to increase their bottom line

Anonymous Coward says:

In all the years I’ve had cable modem access, and through Time Warner, Comcast and Cox, I’ve never once been pressured to install their software, nor have I ever bothered to do so. It’s not a requirement to use their service, and it’s all garbage anyway; why would ANYONE ever install anything they give you? Plus, if the install is giving you hassle and wanting to install things, just tell him you run Linux; problem solved.

TasMot (profile) says:

Re: You've been lucky

When I first installed Comcast (a very long time ago), I ordered the self install kit. Well I could not get connected. Finally, I called the help desk. The technician would not move on until I installed their crap software. Having spent 20 years in IT by that time, I knew better. So, I took an old spare computer that was not connected to the router and installed the software (I just couldn’t lie to them) and told the technician (cough cough) that I installed the software on my computer (which was 100% true, just not the one connected to their network which he didn’t ask me). Amazingly enough, installing their software on a computer that was only connected to itself, magically made my other computer connected to their cable modem start working. I knelt down and prayed to the computer gods. Of course the real magic was the MAC address I had given him earlier for the network card in the computer connected to the cable modem. Not only are they liars and crooks, but they think the whole rest of the world is stupid as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

I never install ISP software either, The first time I got comcast (only option here in MPLS), the guy told me that the software had to be installed so I could use the service. I told him just to call them up and give them my modem’s mac address but once again, the software must be installed. He wouldn’t even let me do it. So I loaded an Virtual Machine to let him install it. He said he that it can’t be in a VM but I said Linux is the only thing that’s on the Machine. He pointed out I had a mac and other computers and I said once again, linux only… Long story short, he still called in my modem info to allow it on the network and all the software did was Hijack Searching results and IE title bar, logo, and homepage in the VM. What’s next from these ISPs, “You have to use our firmware in your router to get on a network…”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: i dont see the issue here

And here I was thinking this was a Windows tradition…
on PCs typically you have to contend with:
your pc manufacturers “custom” set up and settings.
your hard drive manufacturers “custom” drivers and tools
your modem manufacturers “custom” icons and “enhancements”
your usb drive manufacturers “custom” tools
and finally your ISP’s ie toolbars and such…

out_of_the_blue says:

This is to some degree a roll-out of Big Brother.

You’ll soon not be able to opt-out. — You can’t actually now: the ISP can simply insert these headers into any page, and it’s probably not possible for a browser to UN-do it because how can it tell what’s “original”. But for now, they somewhat honor the settings. — Anyway, you’ll soon see some pretext, “Amber Alerts”, storm warnings, “terrorist alerts”, and so on, until gradually you all accept constant intrusions…

Any Mouse (profile) says:

Re: special software for internet?

Because people are dumb, and don’t know how to set their network protocols themselves. It’s supposed to remove a level of ‘idiot’ from the installations. Most front-line Comcast workers HATE IT. (Yes, I worked for them during the transition from AT&T to Comcast. No ‘special software’ at that time, but the morbid joke was that it was coming soon since the DSL providers were already using it.)

Anonymous Coward says:

vote with your dollars

People like me who are not exactly computer experts might accept the idea that the tech needed to install software to get the internet connection working. Of course, as soon as I found I couldn’t change my homepage, I’d be calling comcast and telling them to shut down my account, followed by calling their competitors to set up a new account. If by chance, everyone pulled the same stunt then I’d probably eventually end up at one of the sites explaining how to fix it. I’d still be pissed at any provider who did something like that though.

P.S. Ironically, there’s an ad for Comcast at the bottom of the page as I type this! Like there’s any chance of me clicking that link now!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Take advantage of Comcast - they do it to you

So, I recently complained enough that they discounted my bill and threw in HBO.

Then I upgraded cable service just so I can cancel it within 30 days and not be charged. I’ll probably cancel the TV altogether soon and as soon as I have alternative broadband internet I’ll cancel that too.

They seem incapable of fixing things over the phone – either internet or cable TV issues, so if they want to waste their time sending techs out let them.

Comcast knows they’ve pissed a lot of us and they’re afraid of losing even more business than I’m sure they already have.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh Tim, get over your bad self. Your comments about Comcast in this matter are pretty far over the line.

If this is an issue that only touches (a) firefox users, and (b) mac users, don’t you think it is pretty unintentional? I mean, what, are they hijacking 20 browsers total in the world?

If they wanted to jack home pages permanently, they would do it to ALL browsers, not just one, and not just on the least popular commercial platform, using an alternate browser.

I know you guys like to pee all over the ISPs, but geez, can you do it when they actually do something truly evil, and not just because someone made a programming mistake dealing with a very small subset of users?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Implausible. Why do all the work to address about 0.01% of your total market?

It’s a fail. It’s clearly a programming error (probably a windows programmer unaware of how Apple’s operating systems are use to securing things to the Apple world), and nothing more. For Tim to go off is pretty amusing but absolutely misdirected.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I am a very basic user, a single mom who had Comcast installed, and yes, perhaps considered dumb when it comes to much of the ways of the internet etc.

Well, Comcast hijacked IE and Firefox in a Windows setting so as I browse this conversation looking for help (before I contact Comcast which I don’t expect will be much help) I suspect the earlier Mac Firefox combo was some sort of trial run, because I am pretty much the mainstream ignorant user and they have stuck it to me.

I tried the suggested solutions for deleting a variety of files or profiles, but they don’t even show up so maybe Comcast got smarter and hid them better. Any solutions out there now?

Jim B. says:

Untruth

I’ve been telling my customers for the past few years that their dsl and/or cable providers absolutely do not need to install anything to make their service work. Firstly i tell them that the comcast or qwest installer can use their own laptops to activate the modems. If they do not have one with them, they can call it in by phone. In the worst case they can just remove the software when they are done.

Second, I tell them that the software is almost primarily for spying purposes, such as tracking your movements on the web. Most toolbars are for the same purpose. They watch your searches, your mouse clicks, your hovers, the types of sites you visit, all for inserting targetted ads, as well as updating their search indexes.

You know the comcast installer was lying because, if you just ask one question, you’ll know: what about systems such as your smartphone, or tablet, or linux box? Those work with comcast without installing anything.

The Yorkie dad says:

Getting it fixed once and for all!!

My best friend had a problem with Comcast. It wasn’t resolved, call after call. He even contacted the local corporation commission. He received a ton of “mea culpas” from Comcast, but no resolution. Same lousy, ignorant techs. No one could fix the problem. He doesn’t have the Firefox issue as he doesn’t have a Mac, and he uses Google Chrome.

He finally got so pissed off, that hr wote a long, very angry letter to the FCC, with a copy to the Town Corporation Commission, a copy to the State Corpoation Commission, a copy to his attorney, and he wrote a letter to Comcast’s main offic and included copies of all the letters he had sent.

Well some big muckety muck at Corporate must have dropped a load in his/her pants! Six days later, he received a certified letter from Comcast’s Corporate office, promising him that his problem would be resolved once and for all. They also offered him three months of free tv and internet. He was asked to contact the local office and arrange for the technicians to come out and permanently fix his problem.

To make a long story short, the problems have been fixed! Several Comcast truks want out, with level 5 techs and two tech supervisors. They re-wired the whole steet! They ran new coax to his house, replaced all the coax in his house with brand new coax. And not only my friend. Since we all live on the same street, and had similar issues, we all got rewired with all new wiring outside and insiide.

Moral of the story, do the same! Make one of the big muckks drop a load in his or her pantt!

robert says:

Xfinity software

There was a thunderstorm in my area about a week ago. That night, lightning struck somewhere in my neighborhood and our Comcast modem went out. Long story short, we had to get a new modem. Part of the activation of the modem entailed the service person installing software on my computer. The same software that is the subject of this thread. He said it was because his “handheld computer wasn’t working in this location”. He also said that it wasn’t required to access the internet, and that I could uninstall it as soon as the modem was setup. I did uninstall it as soon as the service person left, and haven’t had any trouble until now, 7 days later. Started when I clicked this link from the Wall Street Journal about gun control:. I saved it in my bookmarks so I could intentionally test the link after I reinstalled this software ,but it is gone. Ok, the link was about gun control. When I clicked it, the Xfinity logo came up and ave me errors saying that I would have to install this software to be able to continue. At that point my entire internet connection was out. I couldn’t continue without installing this software. Even though I denied the homepage and startup changes, they still happened anyway. I believe this is some very invasive software and people aren’t really realizing it yet. I’m going to do my best to completely remove this software from my system or at least get a definite “yes” or “no” as to if my internet connection will work without it. Post more later if more news.

Anonymous Coward says:

Solution…

Very simple to change your homepage to whatever you want. Find a friend using any other internet provider. Take your computer to their location and log on to their ISP. Change your homepage to whatever you want using the tools provided in IE or any other browser. Once you have changed the homepage, the Comcast software can’t change it back unless you do another download.

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