The CueJack FAQ
Latest software version - CueJack 3.6
CueJack software was released in 2001 and last updated in 2002, and so likely won't work properly anymore, as periodic changes to search engines necessitate ongoing updates for software that interfaces with them. (Also, few people still have CueCat scanners!)
But hopefully the project archive functions as an interesting look back at histories of people questioning the control over the algorithmic processes that generate search engine rankings.
12/02: Digital Convergence's CueCat database has gone offline. Fortunately, CueJack's "business" model was adaptable. In 3/02, when the DC database went offline, CueJack was rewritten to work independently of Digital Convergence's database
Convergence Responds to CueJack! (Wired News)
and try it! - version 3.6
CueJack is a software application that lets you scan a product with a :CueCat scanner, then displays a web page with "alternative information" about the product's company. It's a software parody, or "parodyware."
The :CueCat system makes certain assumptions about and impositions on consumers. In the "old-fashioned" method of web-searching, if you were interested in a product or company, you would type its name into a search engine and be presented with a list of hopefully-relevant web pages. Admittedly, this system was problematic, because some pages were ranked "more relevant" than others based on flawed or confusing ranking criteria, payoffs to the search engine companies, etc. If a website author didn't know how to "play the game" his or her page might not get a very high ranking -- but at least it generally showed up. So if someone did a website about how Company X made a lot of money at the expense of humans, animals, the environment, etc., there was a good chance people would come across it when searching for information about Company X.
The :CueCat system, however, removes this messy (from the corporate perspective) possibility, while at the same time reinforcing consumer-like behavior. How? By turning websurfers into supermarket checkout clerks. Now, now, I'm not critcizing supermarket checkout clerks, or even supermarket checkout systems. However, the :CueCat system assumes that people should and would want to perform "checkout" activity at home in their leisure time. Consumers are expected to happily scan products, ads, etc. - thus reinforcing purchasing behavior. When they do, they will be shown only the carefully-packaged image the company wants them to see. The dangers of choice that interactivity brings have been closed off, and though consumers feel like they are doing something (scanning is fun!) they are in fact as much passive viewers as if they were watching television commercials � it�s a one-way, closed system. (It�s probably worth noting here that in addition to its normal software, some :CueCats also come packaged with software and hardware to allow people to hook up their computers to their television sets -- so TV commercials can launch web page advertisements by themselves!)
CueJack "hacks" (opens up) this closed system by using it another way. It allows you, the consumer, to experience the same wholesome scanning pleasure as you do with the normal CueCat software, but displays other kinds of information about the companies � information that you would likely have run across if you had done a web search about the company, but that the company might prefer that you, the consumer, not see. This could be information about corporate abuse, boycotts against the company, etc.
Of course, what :CueCat is really "scanning" are not the products but the humans holding the scanners. Using its normal software, :CueCat transmits both a software activation code and the :CueCat's hardware serial number to Digital Convergence along with the product's barcode. This information lets DC - and anyone to whom they grant/sell access to their database - know what products people buy, use, and read ads for. While Digital Convergence claims that only aggregate, not user specific, information is being gathered, this type of consumer surveilance is becoming increasingly commonplace and disturbing - and is almost impossible to countermonitor. Therefore, to protect user privacy, CueJack by default transmits random numbers to Digital Convergence in place of both the software activation code and the hardware serial number. Any user who prefers to be tracked by corporations can choose to transmit his/her CueCat's actual serial number through use of a simple checkbox in the software.
Here's what it does: You scan a product with :CueCat. CueJack reads your scan, and checks Digital Convergence's database to see what URL you would have been sent to had you been using the normal :CueCat software. From this URL, it determines the domain name, usually somecompany.com. Then it does a Lycos web search for somecompany and a randomly chosen topic of potential interest - currently terms like "boycott," "corporate abuse," "profits," etc. It looks at the top 5 search results, and, starting from #1, starts checking them for relevance. "Relevance" in this case is loosely defined as "the first five letters of the domain name are actually mentioned somewhere in the upper part of the page." As soon as CueJack finds a page that's relevant, it displays the page. While you're waiting for CueJack to select an appropriate page, it also displays the page that Digital Convergence's database would have sent you to had you used the software packaged with :CueCat. This allows you, the consumer, to contrast the page you "should" have seen with the page that CueJack selects.
CueJack takes the opportunity to display pages about :CueCat and Digital Convergence - i.e. the controversy over how the normal :CueCat software invaded people's privacy by transmitting info about them to DC every time they scanned something, how DC threatened people for writing Linux drivers for :CueCat, etc. And as usual you will also see the page that :CueCat's normal software displays - i.e. the "You found one we missed!" page.
The standalone application is for Windows � same as the standard :CueCat software. It's been tested on Windows 2000 and Windows 98, and I expect it would be OK on NT4, ME, and Win95 also.
CueJack now runs under Linux too! Although the Linux version is somewhat "experimental" and does not currently support the Linux CueCat kernel driver, Linux users can now download the Perl source code and run CueJack directly as a Perl program.
To avoid confusion with another, unrelated software project called CueHack, by Dan Van Derveer. (Not linking to it because Dan didn't really want a link, but you can look it up if you're interested.) I wasn't really crazy about the name CueHack for this one anyway, and everyone seems to agree that "CueJack" is more entertaining.
Download the zip file, unzip it and there will be an exe, a csv and an "imgs" folder.
Windows: There's no installer; nothing to mess up your Windows registry. You don't need to have installed the software that came with the :CueCat. Just unzip the zip file into a folder. Then you can run the .exe file, making sure the "imgs" folder stays with it. If you doubleclick on the executable, you'll see an MS-DOS box come up for two seconds, then disappear, at which point CueJack comes up. After that it should be pretty obvious, assuming you have your :CueCat plugged in and working already and that you're connected to the Internet. Just scan things and click the "Go!" button. The textbox will tell you what it's doing, and the pages will launch in either Internet Explorer or Netscape, depending on your Windows setup.
Because CueJack does not currently support the Linux CueCat kernel driver,
you may experience strange behavior from X if you have Alt-F10 mapped
to some action in your X setup. This is because CueCat sends an Alt-F10
sequence as part of its scan. You might want to see what Alt-F10 does
in your Xsession - and perhaps temporarily remap or disable that action
- before attempting to scan with your CueCat. The source code is in Perl.
Make sure you have the libraries indicated at the top of the code, run
the perl script, and you're on your way. Just
scan things and click the "Go!" button. The textbox will tell you what
it's doing, and the pages will launch in Netscape.
There is of course absolutely no warranty regarding anything to to do with CueJack. However, it's free software - open source - distributed under the terms of the Gnu Public License, which gives you specific rights to modify and/or redistribute it.
I think that's about it for now... happy scanning!
I think that's about it for now... happy scanning!