After reading Austin’s article on CNET’s Download.com joining the dark side, I had to check it out myself. I can honestly say he is completely correct. I attempted to download a different program from the site, one that didn’t require the CNET Installer, and it came bundled with a lot of crapware too.
In his article, Austin points out that the Download.com installer, wraps a bunch of crapware in it when trying to install certain programs. But it doesn’t end with just that. CNET allows individual installers with bundled crapware through too.
My Crapware Experience on CNET
Note: In this article I’m throwing around terms like adware, crapware, spyware, junkware…etc. While each term has an “official” definition, let’s not argue semantics. In the end, it’s all the same, extra junk on your computer that you don’t want, and is detrimental to your system and your privacy.
I didn’t go as far as allow my system to get infected like Austin did…cheer’s to him for going all the way so you don’t have to!
But I’ll give you a synopsis of my experience of getting hassled to download laughable crap. I started my test by picking a programs from the “Most Popular Downloads” list: Free YouTube Downloader.
When I got to the download page, I noticed this CNET Editor’s note letting me know something suspicious was about to happen.
The Download Now link will download a small installer file to your desktop. Remain online and double-click the installer to proceed with the actual download.
First Attempt to Install Malware on My Computer
I proceeded to click the “CNET Secure Download Now” button – but I never did get CNET’s installer or “download manager” — whatever they call it.
When the installer started, I was presented with the “Recommended” method. The Recommended method, of course, would include a Delta Toolbar to make my browsing and searching the internet faster and easier! Oh, and it would also hijack my default search engine, home page, and new tab page…um no thanks!
Well, let’s see what the Advanced install presented me with. Surely something easy to just install the app right? Not quite. First, I had to make sure an uncheck all options of the Delta crapware. Another important thing to point out here, is you have to uncheck each item from the bottom up. If you just uncheck the first box ‘Install Delta Toolbar” does NOT uncheck the other hijack items.
But notice, even after unchecking those boxes, it still says “by clicking “Next” you accept the legal terms of Delta Toolbar.”
So what is the Delta Toolbar anyway? Well, I did some research and immediately the results were full of links to “How to remove the malware app delta toolbar.” This site gave me the best information on it. The toolbar is created by a company called Babylon LTD. Here’s what it does:
When installed, it will modify the user’s home page and search settings to redirect to delta-search.com. It also sends various configuration information to its remote servers and tracks your browsing habits and uses such as URLs visited and such in order for the toolbar to provide advertising.
Second Attempt to Pile Crapware on My Computer
It didn’t stop there. Here’s another offer for Safe Saver – another toolbar, search engine and homepage hijack…sigh…Decline. If you’re interested, you can check out the Safe Saver EULA and will quickly discover it will do the same thing the Delta Toolbar does.
Third Try to Install Worthless Software on my PC
Seriously? You’re going to nail me with a third chance to install you’re wonderful crapware? I can’t help but laugh at the fact this “snake-oil” called RegClean Pro claims to increase my computer speed up to 300%!!!! That’s amazing! Almost as amazing as the One Simple Trick we Found on April 1st this year to Fix EVERY Computer Problem Ever!
After the third decline, it started installing “something” but I quickly aborted it before anything could finish. Enough with this already…Hey CNET, 2002 called and it wants its Spyware and Adware back!
Well, I guess the company does need to pay for the cost of hosting the files on a server that millions of people download from every day. Oh wait, they have ads for that, and the parent company is CBS Broadcasting, Inc. How much did advertisers pay last year for a 30 second commercial spot during the super bowl?
In fairness, the company gives you the choice to opt out of the bundled junkware, but it shouldn’t be so difficult. Interestingly, I found that RegClean Pro is available on Download.com and when you hover over the Download Now button, you’ll see the following message:
You’re told a tiny ad supported download manager will be installed. But it’s not consistent throughout the site. For instance, this is what you see if you hover the mouse over the Download Now button on the YouTube Downloader. “CNET hosts this file and has scanned it to ensure it is virus and spyware free.”
This statement, enters a murky and shady gray area. I guess, the statement is true that the program file itself is Spyware free, however, the way CNET allows these installers through with tons of malicious crap means it’s NOT crapware free – far from it.
Conclusion: Stay Away From Download Sites
Unfortunately bundling this junkware is an industry wide practice. The public doesn’t seem to want to pay a fair price for a piece of software, so developers, if they want to make money, need to bundle in this adware crap into their installers. You’ll find similar practices on other download sites such as Softpedia, Filehippo, and others. Even if download sites don’t have a specific malware infested installer, they the sites have “Download Here”, “Start Download” type buttons all over, making it extremely confusing for less experienced users to get what they want, and not a bunch of other crap that they don’t.
For example, here’s the fine print when installing something from Filehippo:
This is why we always recommend to either download your software directly from the developer (even though there you can experience the same bundled crap) — or install from Ninite.com — this service automatically opts you out of any toolbars or other crap an installer tries to sneak on. And always pay attention to what you’re installing folks. Don’t just blindly click Next > Next > Agree >Install.
To be clear, neither groovyPost or myself has an issue with the writers, or CNET in general. In fact I enjoy several articles from respected journalist who work at the site and other properties of CBS broadcasting, Inc. However, this practice of wrapping pure crapware in its installer package, and allowing developers to bundle spyware and other malware in their software installers, is a horrible practice for it’s readers. Especially since the company claims everything on Download.com is malware free.
Note: I reached out to CNET to get a response as to why it includes crapware on its Download.com page, and am awaiting a response. When and if they do reply, I will certainly include it here.
Update 7/22/2013 1:32pm CST: I’ve tried to reach several different reps in the company, and so far, this is the only canned response I have gotten:
We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience here, and we have shared your feedback with the appropriate site managers.
You do have a couple of options to download without using the CNET Download.com Installer – you can either click the Direct Download Link for Installer Enabled items, or, if you have a CNET account, completely disable the Installer for the whole site.
Read more about those options here:
For more detailed information on the CNET Download.com Installer, please visit the following resource:
CNET Customer Help
Well, first of all, I have gone through and looked at several different programs offered on Download.com, and most of them simply don’t have the “Direct Download Link” just the big green button — which has crapware, as Austin pointed out in his article. Second, even if you do see the direct link, if the developer has their program wrapped in a crapware installer, you still have to deal with it.
Now, I have not created a CNET account, and found an option to disable the installer for the whole site. That is next on my list we continue to investigate.