How Programs Trick You Into Installing Adware On Your Computer

20 Feb/12

Bundling software with third party offers to generate revenue is one of the ways that software development companies and developers make money. The system has its advantages if you look at it from a neutral point of view. Instead of going the commercial route, developers can offer their programs for free. That’s good for users who do not want to pay money for the application, and developers as they make money from the otherwise free program.

Developers obviously have the right to add third party offers to their programs, but they also have to live with the consequences of that action. There are users who won’t touch software that comes bundled with what they call “crapware”. Others may be infuriated if the third party offers tricked them into installing software that they do not need and did not want to install.

Tricking users into installing bundled applications can significantly increase the revenue that these offers generate for a developer since these offers pay per installation usually.

This guide looks at some of the most common forms of trickery that you will find in application installers. Before we start to look at specific cases, I’d like to point out general rules that should be followed:

Always check to see if the developer is offering an adware-free version of the software. This can be a portable version for instance that does not need to be installed.Always select custom installation to see if third party applications are installed with the program.Make sure you look at each installer screen carefully before you click on a button to continue. This way you will be able to spot all the hidden traps that may have made it into the installer.

Case Scenarios

Without doubt the most common way of bundling third party applications in software installations is to add them as options during the installation of the requested program.

Foxit Reader 5.1 for instance will install the Foxit PDF Toolbar, make the default search provider and set as the browser homepage if the options are not unchecked during installation.

foxit reader adware

If you do not want those extras to be installed, all you need to do is to uncheck the options.

Unlocker 1.9.1 uses a similar mechanism to distribute the Babylon Toolbar with the program. If you do not uncheck the options, you install the toolbar and change your browser’s search provider and homepage.

unlocker babylon toolbar

A sneakier version of this is for instance included in the PC Wizard 2010 installer which makes it look as if you are accepting the End User License Agreement and Privacy Policy of the software that you want to install, when in fact you accept the terms of the Ask Toolbar and would install it on your PC.

pc wizard

Some developers make third party application installations a tad trickier by adding a custom installation option to the setup. Users who just click next next next will install the adware without even knowing what hit them. Only those selecting the custom installation option will be able to block the installation of the additional programs.

custom installation

Most installers display both the standard and custom installation on the same page, while some display the custom installation options on a second page so that users do not see directly what the program will install in addition to the requested program.

Then you got the programs that do not give you an option not to install a certain program or change on your system, but to accept or decline terms of service. If you accept in this case, you install Relevant Knowledge on your system.

accept decline

Foxit Reader combined several of the strategies in a previous installer. Take a look at the following screenshot.

foxit reader 2

A previous JDownloader version included a tricky installer as well as you can see on the following screenshot. Users who were used to select custom during installation would still install the adware on their system, while only the skip option would not.

full custom skip

You sometimes also get offers to install additional software after the installation of the requested program has finished.


Closing Words

Paying close attention to every step of the installation process is the only way to make sure that you do not install unwanted software on your computer. Did you come across sneaky installers in the past? Tell us about your experience.

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