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Rants: We Hate the Scam of Bundled Crapware

One of the things we hate most is all the free software applications scamming less knowledgeable users by trying to sneak extra toolbars or other software onto their computer. Sadly, the practice is getting even more common, and we’re going to rant about it.

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What’s the Problem?

Sure, you say, you can just uncheck the box when you are installing it. You’re a geek, and you know stuff!

…but what about all the doctors, teachers, and moms that don’t know any better? They don’t want to be geeks, they have other things that matter to them more than sitting in front of a computer all day and night. It’s Shocking, I know, but they have a life.

They shouldn’t be punished by companies earning their living by scamming them into installing some worthless piece of crap software that they don’t need or want. They shouldn’t have a PC loaded down with crapware just because you like free stuff so much that you’ll keep supporting these products by installing them. When is enough finally going to be enough?

If you really love free software so much, why don’t you switch to truly free (open source) software, and maybe start using Linux? After all, everybody knows as soon as you install Linux you’ll be all-knowing and gain special comment-leaving powers.

Nobody Wants Toolbars!

Having extra software riders is common place in apps like RealPlayer or iTunes and other “Lameware” apps, but now it’s getting worse. When getting the latest version of  Flash Player on a Windows 7 install, we see they’re trying to add extra software like the Google Toolbar, or worse, a Mcafee scan.

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Sun’s Java tries to install extra things as well like in this example they want to put the Bing Toolbar in Internet Explorer for you…

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And sometimes it offers to install the awful Yahoo toolbar as well.

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A bunch of quality freeware apps seem to be using this practice nowadays as well…like CCleaner… which makes us sad. We love CCleaner.

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Or Foxit Reader who want to install their own toolbar and make Ask.com your default search. On a side note, have you noticed how bloated Foxit seems to be getting in recent versions?

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Avoid The Extra Junk 

The extra apps they try to sneak on your system aren’t malware like Digsby was trying to do when they joined the dark side, but it’s irritating and annoying that a user is automatically opted in. One service that makes it easy to install your favorite apps without the extra baggage is Ninite which we have previously covered.

Not only do they make it a huge time saver to install multiple apps at once, they say NO to all the extra crapware they might try to include.

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We spoke with Patrick Swieskowski, one of the founders of Ninite, and he told us about how they ensure their service installs apps free of crapware.

These tricky toolbars and addons were a big reason we started Ninite. You always have to be on your toes when running installers these days.

When we set up the automation for each installer we pay careful attention to these offers and decline them. We also check our test systems for new toolbars or other bundled apps after the automation, and if anything got through we throw out that configuration and try again.

We’re really serious about making Ninite a place to get software where people don’t have to worry about these sort of addons or spyware. For example, if I found that our Digsby install had the research mode enabled by default, we would have immediately removed it from the site until we could resolve the problem. Any feedback we receive about malicious or shady app behavior becomes our top priority.

How-To Geek Policy

When you read about free apps and utilities that we write about here, we will always let you know if the app tries to sneak something else in. It’s our official policy.

Note: if we’ve written about something in the past and the developer has since added a crappy toolbar, be sure to let us know so we can update the article and point it out.

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Conclusion

Yes, it’s only a matter of un-checking a box, but it seems that allowing a user to opt-into installing the extra junk would be more acceptable.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/5/09

Comments (35)

  1. BSR

    Great article! I see this with most of my customers. One last year had no less than 5 toolbars running, and didn’t seem aware that the toolbars were taking up about half her screen. She thought that’s how it was supposed to be.

    Most people also seem to think if they don’t install the included toolbar that they will lose some functionality. I make sure to tell them it’s not even a related product — just more crap they don’t need.

  2. TheBigOldDog

    I could not agree with you any more. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repaired machines that have 5 or 6 toolbars and other crap-ware that are all but crippling the machines. I do understand that these companies need to make money but making it in this way is, well, shady and dishonest, and they know it. There has to be better ways for them to monetize their free-ware apps.

  3. TheBigOldDog

    BTW, Ninite is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I used it to reload some essential, every-day apps on a few Win7 clean-install PCs and it saved me hours and hours. Hats off to those guys for identifying a real need and executing it flawlessly!

  4. uhku

    I hate toolbars ! Now i even avoid softwares which add extra junks to my computer. I am not lazy to uncheck the box, but it’s kinda annoying. Sick, yahoo toolbar.

  5. phinney5350

    Everyone hates the crapware toolbars, especially me. However in defense of CCleaner & all other freeware that I use..It helps them make their software free! It only takes a second to uncheck the box. For those who don’t know any better…Sorry…please know what you’re doing before doing it. If you use a tool, you learn how to use it first don’t you?

  6. MadHatter

    Worth the price of admission right here: “After all, everybody knows as soon as you install Linux you’ll be all-knowing and gain special comment-leaving powers.”

    … and I’ve yet to see a useful “toolbar” app.

  7. MadHatter

    @phinney5350:
    “…please know what you’re doing before doing it. If you use a tool, you learn how to use it first don’t you?”

    If someone says, “Here’s a hammer” while handing me a tool, I expect it to be a hammer… I don’t expect a hypodermic to shoot out of the handle and inject me if I don’t do something to prevent it. That’s not what I expect from hammers.

    It’s worst with CCleaner, because people are installing it because they’re trying to make their computer run better… not worse, which is what they’re gonna get if they don’t know enough to opt out of the bundled garbage.

  8. GoodBytes

    For programs like CCleaner, the tools bar thing is there simply because some people are way to cheap to even donate 1$ for a software they enjoy. DONATE. I have the same problem with my free software. I am trying to provide a quality tool in a ad free website, forum and even applications. All I want is my 50$ per year to pay the webhost and domain name. I don’t ask for much? 1 person can pay all this. But since a year, I only got 1 donation. I still strive to make my tool better to attack more and more people, and hopefully have more people donate.. but as the year ends, I going to be in negatives. I am still undecided in making a 2 version – one free the other paying with more feature or do like ccleaner, and put toolbars and even put ads on the website and forum or hope for more donations. I can hold and absorb this year cost… that is no problem… even the year after that, that is not the point… the point is it’s just not very motivated when provide a kick ass tool (proven with all the received e-mails and comments) where, yes I do it for fun more then profit, but at least allow me to pay off the cost of the software.

    I hope things will be better in the years to come and be able to keep my software in a ad free/crapware free environment, as I also hate them like any geeks and not have a paying version.

  9. phinney5350

    The tool I speak of is the computer not the software!! But thanks for the response. As for GoodBytes, I strongly agree..DONATE. It’s the big companies we should grip to like HP. I recentley purchased a printer & they added a Yahoo toolbar in the software without asking.

  10. mark

    Amen to this article. How many toolbars could you end up with. I hate all of them. True enough some people will never donate a penny to freeware, but that inclusion on an attempt to dump a new toolbar on my computer guarantees no donation from me.
    Adobe doesn’t need a toolbar deal either, I already paid them a sizable chunk of money for Phtoshop.
    @Goodbytes
    I’ll be glad to donate next time I download your program, I understand your point of view you work hard to code a good program and all you want is some bandwidth costs covered. We all want great software, for free. Something has to give developers have to eat and support family’s just like the rest of us.

  11. zeepkist

    Rant: i hate the scam advertising in the How-To Geek Forums, like this one:

    Control Panel
    (3 posts)
    Tip: Click Here to Update All Your PC’s Outdated Drivers

    * Started 37 minutes ago by mayagrafix
    * Latest reply from LH
    * Topic Viewed 11 times

    and the click for the update drivers thingy takes you to: liutilities.com, prominent members of the ripoff crowd selling rubbish software for $40.

    thank you How-To Geek for slipping the advertising in in a way that make it look like if it really is a Tip.
    and do not come and tell me that when i am logged in it disappears, i know; and that makes it even worse you talking about your “…but what about all the doctors, teachers, and moms that don’t know any better?”
    improve your own site before ranting is my advice.

  12. The Geek

    @zeepkist

    That’s fair, thanks for the honest feedback. I had actually forgotten that promotion was there… I’m always logged in! I will change it to make it more obvious that it’s a sponsor.

    You do realize that those ads (while annoying) are actually completely optional, right? I mean, somebody has to not just click through, but then download the software, install it, run a scan, and then decide to pay for it only after all of that.

    Contrast that to the scamware vendors, with their opt-in-by-default plan that fools people into installing extra junk.

    Still, you make a good point, and I’ll change those ads. (update: done)

  13. BrianA

    Thanks for highlighting this ever more prevalent intrusion – we appreciate the “free” s/ware and know they have to earn a living, but let us opt IN please! Especially annoying on small screen netbooks etc. Will definitely try Ninite on the EeePC.

  14. Jim

    I really can’t get worked up over this at all.

    If somebody is installing a program to clean their computer and a screen appears with “YAHOO!” or “ASK.COM” plastered all over it they should know enough to stop and read the screen. This isn’t something buried in the EULA, it’s made very clear what’s going on which is not scamming. People need to take some responsibility for their actions.

    Foxit Reader however did annoy me as they made you install the toolbar if you wanted all the features, that’s just wrong and one of the reasons I switched to the free version of PDF-XChange.

  15. Andrew

    Bottom line is that it all comes down to money. I’m sure Ask.com paid a ton of $$$ to have that included in the software installation, and lets face it, developers have to eat. But. This is in my opinion a non-ethical way to do it because the crapware has nothing to do with the install being installed.

    For example, if Foxit wants to install a toolbar that makes easy to save web pages as PDF then great, but if they want to install a toolbar that promotes an unrelated service, then we got a problem.

  16. zeepkist

    @ the geek

    thanks for the quick reply.
    i am aware of “clicking through and downloading” and accept your “contrast”.

    the point was the “…but what about all the doctors, teachers, and moms that don’t know any better?” who will say well if this is a TIP from the geek, it must be good, so let’s download, install and pay.

    indeed you need your advertising and i wish you many clicks, but please make it obvious that it is advertising.
    therefore glad to see the correction. thanks.

  17. Troy

    How to stop toolbars from showing up in Internet Explorer no matter if the crapware gets installed.
    For XP Pro, Vista Business and Windows 7 Pro (Sorry no policy editor for home editions)
    Open Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc)
    Go to Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, Windows Components, Internet Explorer, Internet Control Panel, Advanced Page
    Look at the right for (Allow third-party browser extensions)
    Choose Disable.
    Done!
    No more crapware toolbars even if they get installed.

  18. KB Prez

    Seems that whenever I install anything now, most apps default to adding these USELESS toolbars. The first time I ran an installer with this junk, it slipped by me. Now I know to look for it.

  19. 0zSpitt

    i always install as “custom” if the option is available. “recommended” is the worst way to install anything

  20. Broni

    I keep updated list of all those drive-by-install programs.
    Installers Hall of Shame: http://www.smartestcomputing.us.com/index.php?showtopic=37674

  21. emptywalls

    I find it ironic that at the bottom of this article, there’s an ad banner for RegistryBooster 2009 – Clean, repair and optimize your system. Kinda like the pot calling the kettle black, Et Tu Brute?

    Otherwise, good article.

  22. Jim

    @Broni

    Most of them are not drive by installers. Drive bys install without any notice, which is totally unacceptable. You may not approve of a program asking you if you want to install something, but that isn’t a drive by.

  23. Daddy SU

    I agree it is a pain, but also note that it is sometimes a necessary evil to keep some things free. A lot of the sites I love are ad supported. I know enough to avoid the ads and scams but not everybody does. Unfortunately with the way the computer and internet are ingrained into our way of life, this is something that every one (yes even the moms, doctors and even the mom’s of doctors who are themselves a doctor) need to learn quickly. A computer is not just a tech toy anymore, it is as ubiquitous as the telephone. People should have a working knowledge of something that they rely on so much. I compare the skill of avoiding crap ware and web scams/advertising to having street smarts. If you are going to be on the web/street, you better pick up the rules or it’s not going to go well. Just like you have to get street smart and have good “common sense”, you need to get web smart if you are going incorporate the benefits a computer has to offer into your life.

  24. The Geek

    @Daddy SU

    There’s a big difference between advertisements (which we can all agree are usually annoying), and automatically opted-in “junk” software. Advertisements sit off to the side (at least on HTG they do), and they require user interaction to actually click through to something, and then even further to install or buy whatever the product is.

    Bundled crapware ends up being installed unless you Don’t click something. There’s a massive, massive difference there.

    If these freeware makers would UNCHECK the boxes by DEFAULT, I would be perfectly fine with it. That’s my issue.

  25. Steve

    Ninite is a great piece of software – however, just remember to uncheck the boxes on the software you have already downloaded, otherwise it will do the whole thing over again! It really is a brilliant piece of kt for any serious Windows user to have, because it works quickly and efficiently to install all the software you need without all the additional bloatware.
    Thanks How-To-Geek, for another great idea! :)

  26. Scott

    Ninite is good, but not great… If it allowed me to choose the installation location, rather than always forcing all installations to the default location (C\Program Files\x), I’d use it all the time.

  27. Alex Leonard

    I’ve found myself disappointed with things like Foxit Reader for going down the crapware route and am currently looking for a replacement PDF reader (sumatra is nice but a little too lightweight – I just need a few more features).

    The worst of the apps above I’ve decided is CCleaner. I love it as an app, it’s absolutely great. However there’s something I’ve noticed every time I install it. When you click next to go on to the screen which has the tickbox for crapware there’s a slight delay in the rendering of the GUI. The ‘install’ button renders instantly, but the tick boxes take a second.

    Even though I’ve installed CCleaner countless times I have actually accidentally installed the Yahoo toolbar once by clicking through the options too quickly.

    It’s also somewhat hypocritical that an application which purports to clean your system (and used to be called crap cleaner), is actually guilty of attempting to add crap to your system.

    Shame.

  28. 0zSpitt

    another to ad to the list is orbit downloader and format factory. although you do have the options to uncheck some people not familiar will be installing all sorts of junk and another home page

  29. Zymastorik

    It all comes down to taking a deep breath and not racing through life like your rear end is on fire. Simply put, just spend the time to check out what you’re doing before you do it. No one has a clue what’s happening with their own electronics any more, just click, click, next, next etc. Don’t install more software you wouldn’t need if you just slowed down and read the things you’re interacting with.

    Patience is a virtue.

  30. calebstein

    Will installing OpenSolaris grant me comment-leaving powers?

  31. Ty Myrick

    I checked out Ninite based on this article; it looks awesome! Too bad I just finished setting up Windows 7. :( BTW, CCleaner has a slim build that does not include the Yahoo! toolbar. You can get it here http://www.ccleaner.com/download/builds/downloading-slim or from the “Other Builds” link on their Download page.

  32. Calvin

    Not to forget uTorrent…changed your default search to Ask and installed a toolbar. To the normal user it looks as if the do not accept to install the crap then they cannot install utorrent as well!
    The installation screen is worded in that manner to cause confusion and install the toolbar and change the default search engine.

  33. calebstein

    I actually meant BSD, will that give me comment leaving powers?

  34. BookwormDragon

    I hear you. Boy, do I hear you. You want to recommend your favorite freeware to a less tech-savvy friend, but can’t because they’ll probably end up with half the browser screen covered in useless toolbars. Or you’re not paying attention to the install and suddenly end up wondering where that *@#$ Ask Toolbar came from.
    Honestly, very little annoys me more. I almost gave up using Digsby over it. But I’d already converted my whole family to Digsby and they had just gotten used to it.
    Stop bundling your stupid crapware. ESPECIALLY the “security” scans. Those are really dangerous because they can lull unwary users into trusting downloaded security software, and before you know it, you’ve got a serious fake anti-virus/malware infection.
    Just ask me nicely for a donation. I do make donations for freeware I find useful. But Digsby, no love for you, after your evil tricks.

  35. Amy

    Thank you for this article. I really need to pass it on to mulitple uses that bring me computers!!!

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