Toolbars & PUPS – The New Revenue Raiser

feature - PUPsPotentially Unwanted Programs (PUPS), have been infesting our machines for years but certainly not in the same quantity and frequency as today. Unfortunately, freeware developers appear to have cottoned on to this shabby method for creating additional income in droves, to the point where, in this day and age, unpolluted freeware is becoming a genuine rarity.

It seems the trading of information regarding our online activities is big business and there are plenty of companies out there looking to take advantage. Even antivirus vendors who offer free versions, and are supposed to be the ultimate guardians of our security, have been getting into the act. One of the most common forms of bundling adopted by these antivirus companies is the re-branding of the Ask toolbar to make it sound like an innocuous part of the overall security – a rose by any other name!

I can understand why some genuine freeware developers working with a meager income might head in this direction, but for the security software vendors, who are already grabbing lots of users’ hard earned cash via their premium products, it seems rather like an exercise in pure greed to me.

When it comes to PUPS, today’s freeware downloaders are on a hiding to nothing. It starts with the developers/vendors making sweetheart deals with advertising companies to help bolster their income and filters all the way through to the download sites who, not wishing to miss out on the potential additional income on offer, bundle even more crap upon crap.

Yes folks, bundled crapware has become a near unavoidable part of freeware installations and the need for heightened vigilance has become exponentially more paramount.

Vigilance is key!

I’ve always advocated that security starts between the user’s ears and this is especially true for dealing with PUPS. Vigilance during any installation process is key, don’t just click through an installation. watch out for the small print and those often well disguised options to decline. Look through each page of the installation thoroughly before clicking Next!

Beware of download sites!

download sites - variousDownloading direct from the developer has always been the preferred option but many people like to download from dedicated hosting sites for the convenience of having everything, including alternatives/choices, in one place. Thus, download sites remain very popular.

Some years ago I published a warning about using CNET for downloading freeware, in fact I do believe I was one of the very first to point the finger at and bring its unsavory practices to the forefront. Since that article (Beware downloading from CNET, numerous tech blogs have joined in the condemnation of and its policies, yet it remains one of the most popular destinations for freeware downloaders… go figure!

One thing regarding that I find difficult to fathom is why the site has never been flagged as a bad site. It’s beyond me, but I’m guessing money and influence might have something to do with it.

Unfortunately, the trend has been for more and more download sites to join on the dark side. Among the more popular download sites you should avoid, or at the very least use with extreme caution are;, Brothersoft, Softonic, Tucows, and more recently FileHippo.

Sad to say that the list of safe download sites among the more popular ones is a lot shorter, especially following the unfortunate demise of FreewareBB. I recommend MajorGeeks myself, and Softpedia second. I also believe that Snapfiles remains on the straight an narrow but having not dealt with that site recently I can’t be 100% certain. Perhaps someone might like to confirm?

Last but certainly not least, there is a wealth of information right here at DCT on ways to avoid crapware, including the following:

And if you are thinking that this article is just more of the same – anyone who is dealing with clients’ machines on a regular basis will know that this message is just not getting through and definitely bears repeating… over an over if necessary. The more people who listen, the less amount of crapware that will get installed, and that may actually lead to a change of direction for developers and download sites alike. The only way we can force a change is to cut off or greatly reduce the stream of income.

Please feel free to offer suggestions for either list, good or bad download sites, and I’ll add them into the article (after checking them out of course). You can help build a comprehensive list for the benefit of others to refer to and, if that happens, we’ll publish the list permanently on the site somewhere.


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About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

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