CNet adds crapware-installing “wrapper” for downloads from download.com

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I recently downloaded some installers from download.com, only to find to my surprise that they have adopted a “web-installer” style “download manager” that offers to install random crapware before downloading the actual installer, such as the Bing or Babylon toolbars.

This sort of thing is not atypical, of course; we’re all quite accustomed to authors trying to cash in on the popularity of their free software, which we at Freewaregenius can completely understand, as long as it’s possible to opt out of this in the installation process.

The difference in this case is that Download.com is circumventing software authors altogether, not asking permission before adding this (unnecessary) monetizing component, and certainly not sharing the revenue.

Thus, for example, the author of the prominent image editing freeware Paint.NET, Rick Brewster, surprised to see the component added onto the Paint.NET download has gone on record in asking that they remove the download wrapper from his program, calling it a violation of the license and and asking them to either stop the practice or remove the software from the download.com website.

Greenshot Download linkNote that download.com actually provides a direct download link for those users who log in with their (free) CNet account (see screenshot to the right).

What they should have done: I am no idealist; I know that people need to make money somehow, so here’s what the MBA types over at CNet should have done instead.

  1. They should have asked software authors whether they wanted to opt in or out of this, and offered them at least half the revenue to induce them to opt in.
  2. They should offered the little ‘direct download’ link to all users, not just those who are logged into CNet. This would have given sophisticated users a way out without annoying them and without forcing users to put download.com on their s***list.

Personally, I find this practice especially annoying because I frequently download programs for later, offline testing (for example, on the bus on my way to or back from work).

Have thoughts or reactions? Share them in the comments section.


 
 
 
  • Softonic is doing this too.

  • dmx

    This is totally unacceptable. I noticed this a while ago and immediately deleted my bookmark for download.com. As a long-time user of free software I have learned to treasure the folks who create it. As all of us know, it’s often (often) better than commercial offerings and often (very often) allows us to do things that commercial software can’t do. Let’s support the authors of freeware by donating some dollars when appropriate. And let’s express our support for honest, knowledgeable sites like this one. (end of speech)

  • jim

    i’ll never use these POS sites again!

  • I also noticed this a while ago and write about this in my blog too
    Time to switch to filehippo.com or softpedia.com

  • Indeed will never use their POS site again!!!

  • To add more insult, they sent me an e-mail saying they’d removed the download manager from Paint.NET. However, when I went to verify this, they had not done this. I’ve updated my blog post. It’s one thing to be incompetent or negligible, but another to outright lie about it. I have to push out a v3.5.10 update soon anyway to fix a small bug, and I plan on amending the license to specifically forbid redistribution in a manner that would include browser toolbars. I want to ensure projects like Ninite can continue doing their awesome thing, but forbid what download.com is doing.

    -Rick Brewster (Paint.NET author)

  • Krzysztof

    i’ll never use these sites again!

  • I’ve simply stopped using Cnet completely as a result of this deceptive practice. It’s not like I can’t get news and software from thousands of other Web sites, after all.

  • Just had and blogged about the “up-to-down toolbar” which I inadvertently downloaded form one of the aforementioned sites. I don’t download from that site anymore.

    The up-to-down toolbar – once installed – does not intend to be removed. During the download process the victim is not given any warning about what is being downloaded until greeted with: “Thanks for downloading the up to down toolbar”.

    Joejolly spent three days, on and off, figuring out how to get rid of a toolbar that was advertising the Bing browser. Three files were involved. And deleting the program via the operating system’s list of installed programs just removed the up-to-down toolbar from that list. It did not remove the toolbar.

  • I wrote about it yesterday (in german, english version will come soon) – there’s a userscript for fixing this: CNET Download.com – NoBadware: Direct Download Links. It allows direct downloads for everyone. Nevertheless I’m now avoiding cnet for downloads as far as possible.

  • All the big software archives started to follow this bad business model:

    Softonic sample – VideoLan
    http://i.imgur.com/0SJlX.png

    Afreecodec.com sample – K-Lite Mega Codec Pack
    http://i.imgur.com/35znj.png

    Brothersoft sample – OrbitDownloader
    http://i.imgur.com/e4t98.png

    Tucows.com sample – CamStudio
    http://i.imgur.com/yJwYY.png
    http://i.imgur.com/XdmJO.png

    Conclusion: Use FileHippo and SnapFiles.

  • This has actually been going on since… let me think… it’s been since like June or July, I believe. Or at least that’s when I think I first saw it. The conversion is ongoing, as is evidenced by that there are still quite a few things from Download.com which are still direct (even for not-logged-in users), with no wrapper. But literally hundreds of downloads are obviously getting “wrapped” each day, so it won’t be long before everything is that way (unless, as the article pointed-out, the user is logged-in to his/her cnet account).

    I’m not in any way affiliated with cnet, or am an apologist or shill of/for it. I agree, in fact, that this is VERY irritating; and I don’t disagree with the cries from the wilderness for it to stop.

    That said, software authors who use Download.com as the place from which the users of their software may obtain/download copies thereof are getting, whether or not they realize it (and more realize it than I’ll bet will admit), a quite valuable service from cnet which, frankly, has a cost (to cnet). It’s all about bandwidth, which is not cheap. I know. I have a rack of servers in a big data center, and I see my bandwidth bill every month. It ain’t gettin’ any smaller.

    That, in fact, is usually the reason — often the ONLY reason — why software authors offload the process of users’ acquiring their software to cnet’s Download.com (or SnapFiles, or Softpedia, or any of a number of other places).

    Many software authors will say that they put their stuff on the likes of Download.com so that more people will discover it; so it will get greater exposure. And, indeed, that is a benefit of using such services. But compared with the REAL reasons they do it, it’s a fairly minor benefit. The truth is that far fewer people interrogate the likes of Download.com to see what’s up in the world of new software than either the software authors, or the likes of Download.com wish were the case. So the “greater exposure” benefit, while nevertheless real, is small, by comparison with the real reason they do it…

    …and the REAL reason that software authors use such as Download.com as the place where the users of their software may obtain same is because their own web hosting providers — even if said providers allegedly offer “unlimited bandwidth” (which, trust me, is, in reality, a myth, in the first place) — would sock them for excessive bandwidth charges (or might even just terminate their accounts) if they had hundreds or thousands of people downloading directly from the software authors’ websites. So the software authors let cnet handle it, using Download.com’s (or SnapFiles’s, or Softpedias, etc) bandwidth…

    …and that, believe me, has a SERIOUS cost. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not break-the-bank expensive, but it ain’t chump change, either. It is non-trivial; not-insignificant.

    So, then, the software authors who use the likes of Download.com get something of real value for it. And I mean REAL value. Serious value. In the case of particularly popular software, the bandwidth savings can be considerable… huge, even. That’s no small thing. It matters.

    The other factor which everyone is likely not taking as seriously as they probably should be is that the bad economy is no joke. Young folks who’ve never experienced anything akin to The Great Depression may not know how to spot the signs of our economy dipping dangerously close to that kind of thing. What we’re going through right now is pretty bad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not right on the verge of a true depression… we actually have quite a ways to go before we approach that. But this is about as bad as it’s ever been SINCE The Great Depression; and I’m not sure it’s not going to get a bit worse before it finally starts getting better. And the result of that is that everything is costing either the same or more (because inflation marches on), yet those doing the paying are receiving less revenue with which to pay for it…

    …including cnet. Companies everywhere are trying to figure out how to keep paying their ever-increasing bills with their ever-decreasing revenues. So they’re trying to figure out more and more ways to establish and keep active more and more revenue streams… even small ones. The first thing an MBA student learns (at least if the MBA is from a decent school) is to go back to the basics in troubled times; to not look for the windfall revenues and, instead, to assemble and maintain many small and sustainable revenue streams (while not significantly increasing costs).

    So, in fairness, it’s not completely out of line for cnet to pull this stunt. It has to try to pay for all that slowly-becoming-more-expensive bandwidth somehow. Any first year MBA student will attest that even if the revenue derived from what cnet’s doing only effectively reduces the bandwidth costs (as a percentage of revenues) back down to what’s in cnet’s budget, then it’s a good thing… worth doing, quite likely even if people hate it and complain. Those are the kinds of things which companies like cnet must do during times like these. They’re not trying to make windfall profits… in part, because those kinds of profits simply aren’t available from something as simple as what cnet’s now doing with this wrapper thing. All they want to do, I promise you, is get increasing bandwidth costs, as a percentage of their reduced revenues, back in line with budget projections. Small revenues, granted; but just enough to keep all the ratios right…

    …and, like it or not, cnet is both duty bound, and bound by law, to keep the ratios right on behalf of its shareholders. The SEC sees to that! So this is no small thing for cnet (and its likes), either.

    Under the circumstances, cnet is doing as honorable a thing as it can by allowing the user to opt-out of whatever crapware is being offered (though I realize that some would argue that if cnet REALLY had integrity, it would default the checkboxes to empty so that when it pauses on the crapware screen, the user would have to manually opt-in to obtain it).

    cnet is also not torturing its logged-in users by making them endure the wrapper (which cnet does, in largest measure, because it knows that logged-in users tend to be more SERIOUS users who usually visit other parts of the cnet world of sites and pages, and so will generate, on the whole (and aggregately) more advertising pageviews). Moreover, by rewarding logged-in users by sparing them the wrapper during downloads, cnet is encouraging even more users to become LOGGED-IN users who will, in turn, generate more advertising pageviews. This is “Marketing 101,” folks… even at the worst colleges in the world!

    cnet, to its credit, in additon to being very up-front about the user’s being able to opt-out, is also not trying to sneak anything onto the user’s computer thereafter. However, out of cnet’s control is whether the software author’s installer, which runs after cnet’s wrapper, ALSO tries to play the same game and insert such as the Ask Toolbar, or the Real Player, onto the user’s machine — either with our without his/her pemission. That, quite likely, is how the commenter, here, who complained about the “up-to-down” toolbar, got it sneaked onto his machine. It almost certainly was not cnet who did it. cnet’s wrapper offers one thing (which is, granted, crapware) only, and pauses conspicuously and unambiguously during the installation to offer the user the chance to opt out of it. At that point, it launches the software’s native installer…

    …which is, I’ll bet, where the “up-to-down” toolbar got either offered (with yet another chance to opt-out), or was egregiously sneaked onto the user’s machine without his/her permission (which cnet is most definitely NOT doing).

    I’m not saying that any of this is good; or that cnet shouldn’t stop it. I’m not saying that I, too, am not irritated by it. I’m just saying that what cnet is doing, under the circumstances, is at least within the realm of reasonable; and cnet’s doing it in the most ethical manner possible, all things considered.

    I’m a left-wing, liberal/progressive, lifelong Democrat who doesn’t much like corporations, generally speaking; so please don’t misinterpret what I’m writing, here, as blindly pro-corporations; or as apologia for their crass commercialism. However, even liberals gotta’ eat; and so that means a healthy system of commerce in America. These days, under these very, very bad economic conditions, American businesses have to be able to squeeze revenue streams from anyplace they can reasonably so do. The ones of them which have a corporate conscience will do it… well… if you stop and think about it (and are fair-minded), pretty much like cnet’s doing it, frankly. And I’m not sure that we should be faulting them for it…

    …especially when the alternative might very well be that cnet might otherwise have to severely scale back its operations, or maybe even shut down altogether. And such as that has its own ripple effects, resulting, for example, in the company which provides cnet’s bandwidth suddenly losing a huge customer, and its revenues; which, in turn, makes said company start to try to find its own sources of either new/additional revenues or, more likely, marginally increased existing revenues to cover its own increasing expenses…

    …and that, in turn, forces its other customers to do the same…

    …and so it goes: On, and on, and on… rippling through the ecnomy, affecting everyone. That’s how it works, and the reason, in part, that most high-schools and colleges make students take at least a course or two in economics is so that everyone will KNOW that.

    I’m not happy about this wrapper. But if it has to be done, then I like how cnet’s doing it; and considering the extraordinarily valuable service which cnet provides to those who use it (and its bandwidth) to distribute their software, I don’t think it’s reasonable to demand that cnet share the profits. Again, I’m quite certain that we’re not talking about a lot-o’-cash, there… typically pennies, I’ll bet — if that — per download. Remember that it’s about defraying, not fully covering, increasing bandwidth costs using decreasing revenues; and the fiduciary responsibility cnet has to its shareholders, as a matter of law, to keep those ratios in line with its declared budgets. Quite likely, every penny generated by the new wrapper paradigm is needed to even put a DENT in any of that.

    Maybe if a few more people around here knew what it was like to not only have a fiduciary responsibility to share holders, but also have a practical responsibility for ecnomic health and well being of many employees…

    …maybe if a few more folks around here knew the burden of THAT, then they’d not begrudge cnet the relatively miniscule revenues which this wrapper thing — and the increased numbers of logged-in users, and their increased advertising pageviews — may (or may not even) generate.

    Again, I’m not a corporate apologist… far FROM it. But everyone’s gotta’ eat. Everyone.

    No doubt, the software authors — especially those calling for wrapper revenue sharing — gotta’ eat, too. To that, though, cnet would be well within its right, I would think, to suggest that said software authors can offer their own crapware in their own installers (which run after cnet’s wrapper finishes running) to generate some revenues of their own. If not, then cnet, I would think, would be even further within its rights to suggest that said software authors can use their OWN precious bandwidth to allow end-users to acquire their programs. Of course, we would all hope that cnet would not be so flip and uncaring as that… but I’m just sayin’.

    Hope that helps.

    ________________________________
    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

  • Christopher

    Thanks for shining light on this, it needs to be ridiculed publicly as we can’t and shouldn’t accept such misleading/dishonest practice. I have used CNET / download.com for a couple of years due to their good reviews as well as user rating of each download. When I noticed a couple of weeks back that they started with these downloaders I decided to ditch them and find another source for finding+downloading free/shareware. What a way to ruin a popular service and brand name, unbelievable. Filehippo seems a good candidate.

  • Kevin Foster

    Cnet lost all of my trust by doing this. They are doing THREE very bad things: First, they are creating unnecessary traffic and delays getting what you want to download. Second, they are offering to install crapware that will negatively impact user’s computers. And, Thrid, they are profiting from freeware author’s work and the authors receive nothing.

    If this was translated to the real world, we’d have ONE, harassment, TWO, assault, THREE theft.

    I’ll never use Cnet again, or any site that adopts this disgusting practice.

  • Anonymous

    Gregg DesElms the only voice of reason. Seriously I like paint.NET. I use it regularly but if the author really doesn’t like it just have his program removed off of cnet. Yeah it sock that cnet is doing this but hey at least they provide a free service. If you really want a cause how about picking this issue w/ COMMERCIAL sw producers that do the same thing? Its like having to watch non-skippable ads on a DVD that I bought..

  • Anonymous – “… if the author really doesn’t like it just have his program removed off of cnet.” Umm, yeah. That’s what I told them to do 🙂 Either remove the wrapper, or remove my software entirely. It took them 2 days but they finally removed the wrapper. Download.com is not as big a deal as many people might think. Their stats show that Paint.NET is downloaded from their site on the order of 10,000 times per week. Well, my stats show that Paint.NET is installed about 1.25 million times per week, which means download.com is 0.8% of that. Woop-de-doo.
    -Rick Brewster (author of Paint.NET)

  • Kevin Foster

    Why can’t Cnet simply be honest, their wrapper is not meant to “help” users, in fact it hinders them. Why can’t they just come right out and say it’s intended to increase revenue for the site. Why the need for dishonesty? When an organization is not completely honest about one thing, you can bet your bottom dollar there are other instances of dishonesty as well.

  • SFdude

    Not using CNET’s download.com
    for the last 3 months because of this.

    They shot themselves in the foot,
    by losing the trust of readers…How DUMB can they be?
    I’ll never go back to them.

    Currently, I use FileHippo.com.

  • Joejolly started his description of the up-to-down toolbar deceit this way:

    The Internet has a comfort zone for everyone
    for the good
    for the bad
    and for the ugly
    and anyone can play any role at any time.

    Greg DesElms post, perhaps, gives a reason for the behavior of the company – CNET. And if CNET was the only one involved – there would be no problem. But, apparently CNET decided to share its problem with the users of its site. And it should come as no surprise that businesses “stick together” when they are about to demand more than they should from the users of their products and services. Businesses do organize. Customers rarely do.

    Joejolly discovered what he was downloading AFTER it was installed. And after it was installed, it couldn’t be removed – by the operating system. Should the victim of such an operation even care about the trials and tribulations of the company using this strategy?

    The answer is a RESOUNDING NO!

    The name of the BPM program that joejolly was looking for was close to two downloaders. Which one to use? Joejolly picked the wrong one. The program downloaded without saying a word. Prior to the installation, the installed never said a word. The name, “up-to-down toolbar was not mentioned until after installation. Joejolly was not queried about accepting a “license” to use the up-to-down tool bar. Joejolly got this message: “Thanks for installing the Up-to-down toolbar”.

    And three days later joejolly was free of the up-to-down toolbar that was advertising the BING browser. Never again.

  • DMX

    I have no objection to a business trying to cover the costs of its bandwidth. Gee, how would I do that? First I’d find some crapware toolbar that will drive traffic to my sites. Then I’ll hide it inside a download wrapper. Then I’d make it difficult to uninstall. No, wait, I’ve got a really crazy idea — stick with me here — I’ll provide a quality service and offer value to the people who come to my site!

  • Thunder7

    1 word: “BOYCOTT” these sites.

  • CB

    Welcome to the world of torrenting then. As a service to providers of free software that I download including Linux, I always leave these files to perpetually seed when I obtain them through a torrent. It’s the “help me help you” system of distribution and possibly the best way to overcome/avoid this wrapper issue and show some level of appreciation to those that provide great and/or free software. Thus, I always encourage authors to provide a torrent link on their home download pages as an option for acquiring their work which should guarantee that it is an original, official and “unmodified” release.

  • Ferdinand

    I used to speak very highly of Cnet before they bundled their new crapware installer with all their downloads.
    They will have to stop doing this, appologize to their audience or pay a heavy price for this mistake.

  • Githyanki

    If targeted ads and all the other monetizing gunk is not enough to fill the need for greed. BYE CNET.

    Sadly, Softpedia eg is bloody awful, too. I see no decent alternatives that I know of. Besides, the trend to control the internet to hell and gone in favour of business is not going to stop, and spam is with us forever. Sorry guys, this is not 1998 any more. Done and dusted.

    The PC is just as dead as a gaming platform. When was the last deep flight sim on gaming shelves in the shops? No, don’t mention steam, cannot use it hereabouts.

  • Prabhat Sinha

    Isn’t that dirty and filthy? Sure money can be a compelling reason to be in business. Yet that can kill a good name if the methods aren’t followed well. That’s a matter of time before better products or services hit the market.

    It is indeed sad that freeware is quite taddy of late. I think it started 3-4 months back. It has now taken a turn that may be called malafide or pervasive. Have been a loyal user of CNET, and I trusted them over others. Last few weeks every programme I would download would come along with a pre checked window to make Incredimail your default mail account, as well as the browser bar. A few times I made the error of not noticing that during the installation process of a program, but got conscious of that, and uncheck the options everytime I downloaded.

    Yesterday however, I missed to follow that, and this time it made my life miserable. I just cannot knock Incredimail from my PC – have checked various ways, no result so far. I would really appreciate if someone could suggest a way out.

    In any case, that is an incredibly snide one by Cnet. Cannot believe that expert advisors can get down to this level!

  • boris

    I only use cnet for news.

  • Githyanki, another good download site worth checking out is FileForum / BetaNews ( http://fileforum.betanews.com ).

  • fernman

    My simple solution with Cnet or any similar site: make use of them to find the software you want, but don’t download it from them, get it directly from the developer’s site (Cnet usually provide a link to it, or you can always google it).

  • fernman

    Why whinge? Just make use of Cnet and others to find the software you want, and then download it directly from the developer’s site (Cnet usually provide a link to it, or you can always google it).