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Deceptive Foistware Really Grinds My Gears

November 27th, 2013 by Troy Newport


Since everyone is up in arms because Brian got “killed off” Family Guy (come on people, Stewie has a time machine!) I’m going to take this opportunity to tell you what really grinds my gears.  Sure, I know it’s the eve before Thanksgiving and I’m supposed to be spending the whole month of November posting on Facebook what I’m thankful for, but this is important! 

People inadvertently download crapware to their computers all the time without knowing any better.  Websites deceptively place ads around the real download, and software vendors automatically bundle other software with their download unless you read the fine print and uncheck a small box before you start downloading. 

Sure, I understand if someone is letting me download their software for “free” it’s a way for them to make money.  But how about giving us an option to download something that is valuable, won’t take over control of my web browser, and/or conflict with other software already on my computer?  Huh?  How about that??  And don’t be fooled, it’s not just the little guys trying to make a buck.  The big boys are notorious for this practice too.  Kudos to ZDNet for calling out Skype, Adobe and Oracle for these practices.

Here are some examples of how you are tricked to install things like the Ask Toolbar, Babylon Toolbar and other malware:

CNET is a place that comes up well in searches if you’re looking for a popular piece of software to download.  Unfortunately they strategically place ads that are more prominent and have language surrounding the ads that is designed to confuse less savvy users.  Which of the highlighted areas should I click on to begin my download?

When updating Adobe Flash you are taken to this screen during the installation process, which if you are in a hurry and ignore, will cause you to inadvertently install McAfee.  Doesn’t Adobe already make enough money from us?

Here is an example of how you can be prompted to install the Ask Toolbar.  You should never, ever install the Ask Toolbar!  You need a PhD to get it off your computer once it’s taken over.

And finally, I saved the WORST for last: the Babylon Toolbar.  If you have this on your computer, have your IT person clean it off immediately!   Unfortunately if you do a search for “how to remove the Babylon toolbar” it’s possible you will go to a site that will prompt you to download software to remove it, and you will inadvertently download something even worse.  So if you don’t know what you’re doing, have someone help you who does.

Often when I’m with a client at their office I see their Internet Security application or other critical application popup and say “Update Now”.  Almost always they close the window without running the update.  I ask them why they don’t update and the response I most often get is, “I’m afraid to update things because I end up downloading something that breaks my computer.”  Foistware is directly responsible for that sentiment.  If people are afraid to update their computers because they have been trained to think they are going to accidentally break their computers, then we have a bunch of computers that are open to security vulnerabilities. 

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