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I miss the old download.com website. Remember when you didn’t have to worry about accidentally installing unwanted software in addition to your intended download? Those days are over. I’ve fallen prey to this deceptiveness twice now and I think I’ve had enough. I’ve unintentionally installed software when I was downloading CCleaner as well as when I tried to obtain the Unlocker utility.

I could have sworn the first time I deselected all the options for additional software installation, and if you do a Google search for malware downloads on cnet, you’ll find a whole bunch of folks who believe this too. With my latest download (the second time it happened) I went back and did the whole process again to see if it was my mistake, and indeed there was an option to not install this spyware.

Is it fair to call this software (in my case, something called Coupon Companion) spyware? I think so, and here’s why. Spyware is (generically speaking) software that is installed on a persons computer without their knowledge and collects information about the user. Whether or not people are unknowingly agreeing to install it is irrelevant if the process is deceptive. It can be in a CNET download or an email that appears legit, it’s still tricking you into installing software you didn’t request. I don’t understand why respectable companies are interested in this sort of bastardly procreation for their products. It’s certainly not creating fans out of the afflicted.

We’ve all become conditioned to having to uncheck only one screen of optional software, but CNET cleverly inserts a second one. We’ve also come to know the “Recommended” label in software installations to mean what is the best setting for most people. CNET capitalizes on this complacency as well by giving us a “Recommended” for installing optional software. That’s all it takes to trick countless people into installing some third party software.

As you can see in the first image below, it’s pretty clear you need to select the Custom Installation to deselect the extra junk, but it’s not so obvious in the second screen. A quick glance looks like so many other standard installations that it’s easy to miss, and it’s my opinion that this is by design.

Luckily I caught it right away when I started seeing links on my website that I knew shouldn’t be there. I was able to link this rogue software to my last install which came from CNET. I found Coupon Companion in my Add/Remove Programs list and immediately uninstalled it, but what about the people who don’t realize right away or at all? Well, those people could have personally identifiable information collected, used, and shared by other third parties.

I know we’ve probably all been hoodwinked before by stuff like this, but the part that stings is when a (once) reputable company/website does it. Some of these free/trial software products have their own optional toolbar or applications included, so now when you click on that big green Download Now button like you’re used to (for CNET Installer enabled apps), you’ve got more third party crap to dodge.

It’s not even the optional stuff that bothers me, just the manner in which it’s presented in this case. If it were clear and obvious, you can put five offers in the process, but I call BS on this one. According to the CNET Download.com Installer FAQ, they implemented this because “as many as half of all people who initiate a download fail to complete the download and install their software”. Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. Not for a second.

In response to the additional software offers question, they make it clear to use the word clear in clearing up any confusion about “clearly identified” offers that provide a “clear method for rejecting the additional software”. If it were that clear, you wouldn’t have so many people complaining about it and wondering if they’ve just been infected with malware because they don’t remember agreeing to installed “clearly identified” additional software.

While I can’t speak for the many people that think they were never asked, I suspect they simply missed the options like I did because of the misleading way in which it was presented. Still doesn’t make it right though.

So what options do we have? If you’re not as (unnecessarily) annoyed as I am, you can continue using CNET’s Download.com and just select the smaller text link direct download listed under the CNET Installer Enabled big green “Download Now” button. The other option is to download directly from the site offering the software. I know there’s plenty of other sites like download.com too, but I’m not yet familiar with them or their download process.

Might be time to check out some new ones and give them my traffic instead.

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