Is This The End For Crapware?

Category: Software

In the wake of Lenovo's Superfish disaster, the company has vowed to “become the leader in providing cleaner, safer PCs,” by significantly reducing the number of “preloaded applications” -- what everyone else calls crapware or bloatware. Are they serious, and will the trend catch on with other vendors?

Bells, Whistles, and Whoopie Cushions

“Crapware” is a crude but apt term for unnecessary software loaded onto computers by hardware vendors. It may include trial versions of software that have limited functionality, unnecessary toolbars, dubious “shopping assistants," and shareware utilities that duplicate functions already built into Windows. We always assumed they were harmless but annoying, until recently.

I was appalled by last week’s news that adware called “Superfish Visual Discovery” installed on Lenovo laptops exposed customers to “man in the middle” hacker attacks. (See my article, Does Your Computer Have VD?)

So were a lot of other people. The tech trade press, the security research community, privacy advocates, and even hackers came down on Lenovo like several tons of bricks. (For a few hours, Lenovo.com was hijacked and its home page replaced with a link to the “Lizard Squad” hacker group’s Twitter page.)
Clean your hard drive

Lenovo got the message, apparently. This week, the company announced that it will stop installing “what our industry calls adware and bloatware” on its products, “starting immediately.” So when exactly is “immediately”? By the time Windows 10 launches, Lenovo pledges that “our standard (Windows installation) image will only include the operating system and related software, software required to make hardware work well (for example, when we include unique hardware in our devices, like a 3D camera), security software and Lenovo applications.”

In other words, Lenovo will pre-install only legitimate software from legitimate sources that serves legitimate purposes. It won’t waste customers’ time and system resources, or expose them to data loss and identity theft, by deliberately infecting their brand-new PCs with untested software provided by unknown firms whose only qualification for being allowed near Lenovo customers is the money they pay for that access.

Lenovo seems to have gotten the message that its reputation isn’t worth the paltry profits that crapware brings. In its earliest response to criticism over Superfish, Lenovo admitted that its relationship with the adware developer was “not financially significant.” No single piece of crapware is “financially significant;” that’s why new PCs are loaded with so many pieces of it! For every computer they sell, the crapware vendors pay them a few dollars.

The King of Crapware?

Unwanted software doesn't always come with your new computer. Lots of it sneaks in when you download software online. See DOWNLOAD ALERT: Foistware Warning and Downloading? Watch Out For These Danger Signs to learn about foistware, and what (formerly reputable) download sites to stay away from.

But Lenovo is hardly the worst PC maker when it comes to crapware. That stigma belongs to Toshiba, according to counts of bloatware posted by ShouldIRemoveIt.com. Sony and Lenovo tie for second, with Dell and HP close behind.

The “Should I Remove It” program scans a PC for over 10,000 crapware titles and provides detailed information that can help a user decide whether to keep or uninstall a program. The most common crapware titles, as of February 28, 2015, include:

• Shop for HP Supplies, by HP. Its only purpose is to steer users into HP’s online store and make sure they buy only (overpriced) HP-branded ink, paper, etc.

• Search App by Ask, the infamous search results hijacker.

• Search Protect from Client Connect (formerly Conduit), another homepage and search engine hijacker.

• TOSHIBARegistration, whose only purpose is to nag you until you register your Toshiba machine. Acer, Lenovo, and HP have their own versions.

• Remote Desktop Access VuuPC; often bundled with third-party crapware, this dangerous program allows unknown parties to have remote access to your computer.

• Spigot Search Settings periodically checks your default search engine and resets it to Yahoo.com if it’s been changed to anything else.

I'd argue that the situation is just as bad with junk apps on mobile devices. Really, Verizon…? At least let me remove NFL Mobile, TripAdvisor, Flipboard and IMDb if I don't want them! But that's a topic for another day...

• Coupon Printer for Windows lets you download coupons from Coupons.com and print them.

PC Decrapifier is another popular tool that removes crapware. CCleaner began its long career as a “crapware cleaner” but has evolved PC tuneup capabilities. For more free tools to help you scrub your hard drive of unwanted or unnecessary files, see HOWTO: Clean Up Your Hard Drive.

I hope that Lenovo’s pledge to foreswear crapware becomes a PC industry standard. The extra dollars may be tempting when profit margins are shrinking, but the risk (as Superfish proved) and the consumer disdain will hopefully tip the balance in favor of cleaner and safer computers.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Is This The End For Crapware?"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Tom Van Dam
03 Mar 2015

I really liked the article as I have had to help many a user or friend clean up their new computer. Hopefully this will be the start of some changes.

I tried to download the ShouldIRemoveIt software and it was interesting that our firewall classified it as harmful. Oh well, guess I will go back to the manual method.


Posted by:

James Baird
03 Mar 2015

Oh Bob... great article as usual but please.... the use of "vow" and "pledge" has been way overdone recently in the media - especially as Lenovo did not use either term as far as I can see.
So.. if spelling, punctuation, grammar etc. are important so is the avoidance of tabloid words like "vow" and "pledge"!!!!!


Posted by:

RichF
03 Mar 2015

I wonder how much the computer manufacturers make off the crapware. They sell a lot of computers and a few dollars per machine would add quite a bit to their bottom lines for no labor or parts expense. Too bad it's not a line number on their yearly reports.


Posted by:

MJ
03 Mar 2015

The new Dell laptop I received as a gift a little over a year ago had very limited "crapware" installed unlike our old desktop, what a surprise. Think I only removed 2 or 3 items that were useless.


Posted by:

bb
03 Mar 2015

I found it hilarious several years ago when Sony was offering a crapware-free PC – for an extra $50!
Even if all the third-party software isn’t included with Levono’s PCs, that doesn’t mean they be clean. All PC makers include their own branded utilities and other "Value-added Software;" otherwise it’s very hard to distinguish one Windows PC from another. And horrors, they can’t have users buy generic PCs that do just as much as theirs for a lower price. Or worse, build their own!
There is a place to buy 'clean' PCs – Microsoft. The Microsoft "Signature Edition" PCs claim to have no extra junkware or trialware. But you’ll not find any inexpensive PCs in the store – the least expensive desktop is $800 and go way up from there.


Posted by:

frank
03 Mar 2015

hi bob...i was wondering if you ever looked at the hp all in one computer..is it a good idea or should i stay with a tower...wondering what your opinion is


Posted by:

BillF
03 Mar 2015

No large company changes behavior like this until they get caught. Much like politicians...


Posted by:

Allan Thiele
03 Mar 2015

ShouldIRemoveIt wants to install an unzipper program powered by ASK.COM. Anti crapware wants to install crapware? I don't think that's going to happen.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Didn't happen to me. Be careful not to click an ad on the download page. Here's the direct link: http://www.shouldiremoveit.com/download-thankyou.aspx?download=1


Posted by:

Elizabeth Landry
03 Mar 2015

This customer abuse won't stop until we as consumers sue the manufacturers for damages done by this adware that leads to spyware. Computer Law anyone?
Peace, E


Posted by:

joan
03 Mar 2015

I have "should i remove it" and i am so glad. for each program there is graph showing how often people removed it and a good indication of whether it nets a positive or negative for your PC!
Thanks!


Posted by:

Warren
03 Mar 2015

I could live with it if it was separate from the O.S. like a folder "Trial versions of other software you might like" on the desktop. A "readme" file could give further details, but the whole folder and contents could be deleted with no ill effects on the PC.


Posted by:

Robert Kemper
03 Mar 2015

I suppose, at this point we can only hope that the
trend against crapware removal continues.To say the least, it's long overdue.


Posted by:

Paul
03 Mar 2015

Not only is crapware installed but hidden partition(s) on the hard drive contain restore images so you can restore your computer back to the crapware state it was when you bought it.

If at all possible and you know someone computer savvy, I advise removing the recovery partitions and then doing a clean install from an original OS disk.


Posted by:

Heather
04 Mar 2015

I use a local business, Soho Computers in Dillsburg, PA for all my computer purchases (note, not toner cartridges). Over the past 12 years I have gotten 2 laptops and 4 desktop computers from him and he builds the desktops in house. Laptops come from a local source without any software, he installs Windows and any other software I have already (such as a disc-based Office 2007, 2003 and now the online version). He also stands behind his computers and offers registry cleanups when the normal process won't get rid of the problem (such as conduit). My money stays in the community and I get no crapware.

I also don't have to buy a new monitor each time and presuming I already have the keyboards (in triplicate!!) and the thumbwheel mice he ordered for me a few years' back which I cannot find anywhere else, he charges just for what I need - - the appliance, utility software, and the service when needed. I don't have to buy an entire computer "package" (ie, monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc) when all I need is a more powerful computer that will do what I need. I try to keep them going until the OS is obsolete/not updated by the publisher. And my cost is not any more than you'd pay buying a package from a big-box store such as BestBuy, Staples, even Amazon!

This is a WIN WIN WIN. Y'all should check your community and support your local computer store -- they're often more knowledgeable and care more about your issues than the GeekSquad or similar services from the big box stores.


Posted by:

Al
04 Mar 2015

Hopefully computer manufacturers/suppliers/builders/whatever will now realize that they, like Lenovo, are risking their reputations when they place crapware on machines they sell. They have no way to ensure such software is free of flaws, much less malicious features. A case might also be made that acceptance of money for crapware instalation could make those computer suppliers accessories to whatever results.


Posted by:

Ari
04 Mar 2015

Once again timely and informative article. Always reading your articles I learn something.

Can anyone enlighten me about the country of origin of "Superfish"?


Posted by:

L
04 Mar 2015

@Heather
I just can't let this pass.
Thank You.
Support your local shops.


Posted by:

Erasmus
04 Mar 2015

When considering a desktop or mobile computer, crapware should be part of that decision, so have a look at the huge differences between home/mass-market computers and those for business and institutional use.

The home and mass market models are easily found in stores, brick and web; it’s the good stuff - OptiPlexes and Precisions, ThinkCentre M's and ThinkPad T's, HP/Compaq Elite and Advanced, Acer Veritons, et al - that flies mostly below the radar.

Better designs, better parts, more stable platforms, more durable in every way, often with 3 year warranties with 2nd business day onsite service, and rarely is there any crapware, except perhaps for proprietary utilities that need to reined in or turned off.

The reason is simple. If a company loses individual home/mass-market customers, that's a problem; but unless a mass of customers goes public, or launches a class action suit, the company can usually ride it out. Consider Dell and the leaking capacitors on old Dimensions, or Apple’s ongoing MacBook Pro scandal.

But if a company sells problems to a college, university, think tank, research center, hospital, corporation, city, state, branch of the federal government, or a branch of the military, it can be a catastrophe.

During the XP to 7 transition prompted by the end of support for XP, my three biggest institutional clients collectively purchased over 30,000 PCs, mostly Dell OptiPlexes and Precisions and Lenovo ThinkCentre M’s.

Imagine losing those clients, or what it would cost to repair the relationship, or even worse, if word got around and it became a sector trend and a company lost a big piece of that entire market.

Given that the prices are usually close, often identical, and sometimes even less than home and mass market computers, why not have a look at the good stuff?

When you look at the histories of those product lines, it’s clear that those 3 year warranties with 2nd business day onsite service are what some institutional techs call “werewolf insurance”: i.e., of course they’ll give that sort of warranty, support, and service, because the odds are that you’ll never use it.


Posted by:

Erasmus
04 Mar 2015

For Ari, who asked about the national origin of Superfish...

It came from an Israeli company in America that bought malware from a company in Israel. But it bears mention that in both America and Israel, you can get away with having a business that sells a product or service that would get you a bankrupting fine and/or a federal prison term in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere.

One need only consider the national differences in laws regarding privacy, the legal definitions of various forms of malware (especially spyware), and your right to control what's on your computer, how it gets there, product disclosure, etc.


Posted by:

Sheila
04 Mar 2015

Does this program work on tablets and smartphones? Would love to get rid of the bloatware on those devices.

EDITOR'S NOTE: No, only on PCs.


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