Time to Stop Using CNET to Download?

If your web browser has toolbars you don’t want there, CNET might be partially to blame.

In the early days of the Internet, CNET’s Download.com was a handy place to find software that did what you needed, without any middle men or sketchiness.

Now it has become one of the middle men, GroovyPost says. After hearing that CNET’s downloads were installing additional unnecessary software — many people call it junkware, bloatware, or crapware — consumers didn’t want, the site checked it out. Here’s what it found:

  • When trying to download a program, the CNET installer prompted the user to accept the terms of service with a check box that, when ticked, actually downloads extra junk and changes your homepage.
  • The user is then prompted to accept another apparent terms of service page, this time with no check box. But a green button in the lower right — which in the previous prompt was used to skip the junk — now signals agreement to additional junk software.
  • Then there’s a third prompt for an unrelated program the user didn’t ask for, with the same setup as the previous one.
  • Despite careful reading and junk-dodging, the installer added one of the toolbar programs anyway, and changed the user’s homepage on two Web browsers.
  • To uninstall the junk, the user had to type in one of those stupid CAPTCHA codes of randomly displayed numbers and letters designed “to make sure that you are a person.” And then it didn’t even fully uninstall the program’s files.

It’s a real mess, and designed to trip up (and profit from) people who aren’t very computer literate. CNET gets paid to bundle this garbage, GroovyPost says. The site recommends not using CNET for downloads, but if it’s the only option, look for a direct download link. It’s a tiny text-only link, tucked away below the big green Download Now button.

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  • Baileywick

    Thanks for the article. I recently used CNET to download a program and had to jump the hurdles mentioned to avoid a lot of changes I didn’t want. This had me wondering about CNET’s credibility. I have also occasionally gotten notices that a certain program installed on my computer now has updates to install. When you initiate the process, you are asked to accept toolbars and Norton Anti-virus as part of the install. This makes me wonder where the update notice has come from and if it is legitimate.