Downloading? Watch Out For These Danger Signs
A while ago, I wrote about the problem of foistware, software that sneaks in during a download, without your knowledge or explicit consent. I fingered CNET for their Six-Part Horror Story that downloaders must endure. Today we'll look at two other popular download sites, to see if they are guilty of the same shenangigans...
Is It Still Safe to Download?
There are plenty of rogue sites on the Web, offering downloads that are either fake or malicious. But when we go looking for software downloads, we should be able to trust the big names like CNET, ZDNet, Adobe, Oracle and Tucows that have been around forever, right? Sadly, the answer is not always.
In my previous article DOWNLOAD ALERT: Foistware Warning, I wrote about the pervasive problem of foistware, and named names. If you've ever downloaded Adobe Reader or Java, you've experienced the problem of unwanted toolbars, sneaky downloads, and changes to your browser settings.
The problem is especially bad at CNET's Download.com site, and they deserve to be shunned and scorned for it.
In today's article, I'm looking at two other popular download sites, ZDNet and Tucows. Both have been around since the early days of the Internet, but at least one of them should be added to your "Do Not Visit" list. Let's take a look at both, and see how it goes while trying to download CCleaner, a popular Windows utility program.
After visiting the ZDNET Downloads page, I clicked on the CCleaner link, which was prominently listed on the home page as a Most Popular download title. A new screen appeared, with a red Download button. Clicking that link gave me a popup, asking me to login with my ZDNet account, or create a new account.
The "Join now" link led to a fairly intrusive form asking for email, name, street address, city, state, zip, phone, job category, and employer. At the bottom, it said that by submitting this form, "You also allow us to share your registration information with companies that provide content, products, or services featured in the TechRepublic Resource Library so that they may contact you about their products and services. You will also receive a complimentary subscription to the ZDNet's Tech Today and ZDNet Announce newsletters."
Because that sounded so horrible, I entered totally bogus info, and got thru to the next page where the download began automatically. (Sorry, ZDNET. If you see the one from "Nunna Yerbizz" that was me. You might want to make that an optional step, or simply ask for an email address. Who wants to give up all that personal info, and have it shared with marketers, just for a free download?)
Thankfully, from here on, the download process and the CCleaner install was simple and clean, no foistware. I wasn't asked to accept any sneaky downloads, or agree to any terms, conditions or privacy policies. Overall, I give the ZDNet download process a thumbs up, with reservations about that signup form.
As in the previous example, my goal was to download CCleaner by visiting TUCOWS Downloads. The page loaded with an enormous 970x280 pixel "Top Download" banner at the top of the page, encouraging me to follow three easy steps "to identify what's causing your PC to slow down."
I ignored the enticing green "Click to Start" button, and scrolled down the page where I could enter CCleaner into a search box. Next screen showed a link for CCleaner, which I clicked. Could it be a simple one-click download, I wondered?
Alas, no. Another huge "Top Download" banner urged me to first download and run Uniblue's SpeedUpMyPC2014. But there was a green "Download Now" button flanked by the words "CCleaner 4.03" and "Download size 4.19MB". Even though it looked a lot like one of those scammy ads with the misleading Download buttons, I clicked.
After this rocky start, here's where the real ugliness began...
I clicked to read those and it turns out DownloadAdmin adds another layer of indirection and slime to the download process. "DownloadAdmin™ is a Software Match Service. We offer our software match services to you in exchange for your agreement to view promotions, advertisements, or participate in other Offers. We may show you one or more partner software offers... We may also offer to: (i) change your browser’s homepage; (ii) change your default search provider; and (iii) install icons on your computer’s desktop, including third-party offers." Aaaaaaaaaaccccckkkk!
I pressed Accept anyway (just to take one for the team) but with the full knowledge that if System Restore didn't bail me out, I still had a fresh backup that I could resort to. Yet another screen popped up, telling me to "Click Accept now to continue your installation." Oh, but it also informed me that I had somehow "elected to download Search Protect by Conduit, a free desktop application that is designed to prevent attempts by other software you download from the Internet to change your preferred Browser settings." Oh, the irony! One program wants to change my browser settings, and the other wants to protect me from changes. My options now were Decline and Accept.
This time I declined, to see what would happen. Guess what? Another screen, nearly identical to the previous one. Once again, it said "Click Accept now to continue your installation". But in the small print: TWO pre-checked offers. One for TidyNetwork (exciting offers related to your interests and keywords on your web page) and Severe Weather Alert (Desktop Notifications when storms are heading your way). Oh, and there were even more third (or fourth?) party Terms and Conditions that I was tacitly agreeing to by hitting Accept. I didn't bother to read those.
Pressing Decline brought me to Round Three, and an offer to download something called Albrechto, which sounded to me like a fancy Italian shampoo. It promised to "add useful features and content to enrich website navigation, such as related search results, exclusive web offers, and advertisements." It also wanted to change my browser settings and "collect and share user info." Once again, Aaaaaaaaaaaccccckkkk! And Decline.
Round Four, more of the same. I am given the chance to download PalTalk Live Video Chat, with 5000 Video Chat Rooms and the chance to Meet New People Every Day! And of course, more legalese, Terms and Policies to accept. I hit Decline for the fourth time, and finally... "Your software is downloading, please be patient." This time the download was the real thing, and installed CCleaner without any unwanted parasites.
But what an ordeal. I stayed in the house, consumed by the thought that a shadowy guy in a trenchcoat and dark glasses might try to sell me a fake Rolex. Fortunately that didn't happen, but I still wondered if any malicious or unwanted software had snuck in, despite all my Declines. I'm very, very disappointed in TUCOWS, which once was a great resource.
UPDATE: Several readers correctly pointed out that I should have mentioned a few places to go for safe downloads. I've always had good experience at FileHippo.com. And I've previously written about Ninite, which provides safe downloads, and also automates the installation process.
Have you had experience with a download site that offered unwanted foistware? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 31 Jan 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Downloading? Watch Out For These Danger Signs (Posted: 31 Jan 2014)
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