Piggyback Downloads

Category: Software

Suddenly my web browser is cluttered with toolbars that I never asked for. I delete them, but sometimes they come back. Why is this happening, and how do I get rid of all those unwanted toolbars?

Piggyback Toolbar Download

When Unwanted Programs Piggyback Onto Downloads

You open your Web browser one day and there at the top is a toolbar you didn't install. You close your Web browser and up pops something calling itself "History Swatter" bugging you to delete your browsing history and oh, by the way, download this other "nifty, free" utility. Oh, and you didn't install that, either? Where did these things come from? How can you get rid of them? How can you avoid picking up more of them?

Often such annoying programs are sneaked into your computer with other programs that you actually did mean to download. The annoyances "piggyback" a ride onto what you want and are installed along with the desired program. Usually, you can avoid piggybacks if you pay attention during the installation of a desired program. But some distributors of free programs sneak piggybacks in far under a normal person's radar.

Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, Ask.com and others have toolbar piggyback programs, and one can only presume the company pays software distributors to sneak it in on their users' computers. During the installation of the desired program, after clicking on several routine buttons and getting used to clicking "OK" or "Continue" mindlessly, there will be a notice that asks if you wish to install a toolbar, or some other extra thing. They're counting on you to be lazy or impatient, and just click the go-ahead button without really reading what you're agreeing to.

Usually there is a checkbox you can uncheck to deny the installation of piggyback program. Just pay attention for it.

Java Update - Yahoo Toolbar

Other software is even more stealthy and devious. There are quite a few trusted software packages that try to foist toolbars and other addons under the radar. Even some security-related programs use this tactic! Here is a sampling of some well-known programs that include piggyback downloads:

  • Sun Java Update (Offers Carbonite or Microsoft's Bing toolbar)
  • Adobe Flash Player / Reader (Offers Google Toolbar or McAfee Security Scan)
  • AVG Antivirus (Offers Yahoo Toolbar)
  • CCleaner (Offers Yahoo Toolbar)
  • Comodo Internet Security (Offers Ask Toolbar)
  • Foxit PDF Reader (Offers Ask Toolbar and eBay Desktop Shortcut)
  • IrfanView (Offers Google Toolbar)
  • RealPlayer (Offers Google Toolbar or Google Chrome)
  • Skype (Offers Google Toolbar)
  • Winzip (Offers UniBlue RegistryBooster)
  • ZoneAlarm (Offers SpyBlocker aka Ask Toolbar)

HistorySwatter, which I mentioned earlier, is infamous among Web surfers. It is a stealth piggyback on an "opt-in" piggyback like the Yahoo! toolbar; the opt-in is called MyWebSearch Plus. Here's how the nasty scheme works:

You download and install any of several hundred free programs, and during installation you get an option to install MyWebSearch Plus. Giving the go-ahead implicitly states that you "agree" to the Terms of Service that are part of MyWebSearch Plus - a lengthy piece of legalese displayed five lines at a time in a tiny window, which no one ever reads. But buried deep in this land-mine is this clause:

"We reserve the right to add additional features or functions to the existing Software. When installed on your computer, the Software periodically communicates with our servers. We may require the updating of the Software on your computer when we release a new version of the Software, or when we make new features available. This update may occur automatically or through other means and may occur all at once or over multiple sessions..."

In simple terms, MyWebSearch downloads and installs additional applications without your knowledge. History Swatter is just one of them.

Protect Yourself From Piggyback Downloads

Anti-adware programs such as ZoneAlarm, Avast! Antivirus, Advanced System Care Plus, etc., will detect and remove piggyback programs like these. But things like MyWebSearch just download and install the darned things again and again. It's perfectly legal and completely evil.

To get rid of piggyback programs once and for all, use the Control Panel to uninstall MyWebSearch and any other free software you may suspect of downloading piggyback programs. SmileyCentral is another example of this wicked breed; it provides a library of animated graphical emoticons which most people don't want to receive in email anyhow. Get rid of it!

Think before you download. If it's free, somebody may be paying the distributor to load up your computer with adware or extras you don't need. Pay attention during installation; opt out of anything you don't really need; and take the time to read Terms Of Service before agreeing to them - or just don't agree to such things without compelling productivity reasons.

Got comments about piggyback downloads, toolbars, and other unwanted extras? Post your thoughts in the comments below...

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Most recent comments on "Piggyback Downloads"

Posted by:

06 Oct 2009

Hi Bob,

Good article. Those toolbars are a real pain and it's so easy to install them accidentally.

Your comment about difficult-to-read EULAs is well made. There's a free program called EULAlyzer which allows you to copy and paste a long complicated EULA into its text window and then check it for "interesting" words and phrases.

You can get it free at http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/eulalyzer.html


Posted by:

pepper kay
06 Oct 2009

I can not get rid of Google ...

It does not appear in Control Panel, yet is in my Program Files ...

I've tried to delete it from there, but am refused the OK to do so by the program itself ...

Any suggestions ?? ...



Posted by:

Patrick Coppage
06 Oct 2009

Try downloading Revo Uninstaller and using it. I highly recommend this fantastic freebie. And there's brute force way - File Shredder, which just rips it out. If you're comfortable playing in you're Registry, delete any and all references to Google and reboot. This will remove ALL Googles you have when you reboot. Backup the registry first, JIC. Then reboot.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not sure what you mean by "remove all Googles"... and hacking away at registry entries you don't understand can't lead to anything good.

Posted by:

Ralph Skinner
06 Oct 2009

Yes and Microsoft piggy back, Genuine Advantage Tool with Internet Explorer 8.
It just takes up time and resources.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2009

A good approach is to first run Erunt or Total Uninstall before installing any apps,then if there is any problem just run Erunt or Total Uninstall to completely wipe out what ever has been installed!


Posted by:

07 Oct 2009

Bob -

Another excellent piece. Thanks!

Posted by:

08 Oct 2009

MyWeb Search is one of the most common pieces of spyware around. It come in the forms of Smiley Central, Cursor Mania, Zango and many many others. This one is aimed at children.

Posted by:

Jim Williamson
08 Oct 2009

"Think before you download. [...]
Pay attention during installation"


Article in a nutshell !!

Posted by:

08 Oct 2009

Another piggyback download happens with Express Scribe, an audio transcription software. This software is free but after downloading it, if you go to All Programs, you'll find a whole suite of other software you have not asked for, has been bundled with it, that too without any indication of the download. Amazing! It is like asking a guy for hundred bucks and he gives you a thousand!!

Is this a Trojan? I suspect so because one, the software is free and two, the unasked for suite being downloaded without your knowledge.

There is no free lunch. Free software costs money to produce. The producer has to make up the money in some way so...

We are used to 'buy 1 get 1 free' but this 'ask 1 free, unknowingly get 5 free' is suspicious.

Posted by:

13 Oct 2009

I remembered when I had this kind of problem, usually those piggy bank downloads use to slow down my browser, it was so annoying, jeje but Know I know how to get rid of them.
Great article!!
Thanks BoB

Posted by:

Frank Ernhart
12 Feb 2012

I downloaded a program called freeviral.com which is a multilevel "website hits" improver. Every time I open my home page a popup with their ad appears. After searching suorce code on my website index file, I found a few lines which mentioned the website, so I deleted these lines then uploaded my new index file and the popup is still there. It is annoying and I can't seem to get rid of it. Any ideashanks in advance for any comments. - Frank

Posted by:

05 Apr 2012

I read this article now in apr,2012.I am affected by "Mywebsearch" and this does not appear in programs list for me to uninstall.I have windows XP with IE8.I ran "highthis" but it shows up so many registry entries I dare not do anything.What should I do to get rid of this as my PC is down to a crawl.

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