It's second nature to me to watch for the tell-tale disclaimer prompt during a program install, asking me to opt-out of adopting a toolbar, or making a product's website my home page, or downloading some "system cleaning" tool I've never heard of. But what would happen if you didn't take this cautious approach? What if you're the type of person that clicks the "Next" button blindly or automatically goes for the "Typical" install option?
This experiment was inspired by the following post on Free Fixer, showing Internet Explorer after a few rounds with CNET's Download.com. I didn't think it was entirely fair to show the results with just IE, so I downloaded the top 20 apps myself, installed them and then checked out Chrome and Firefox to see how they weathered the storm.
First, here are the programs:
- Avast Free Antivirus
- AVG AntiVirus FREE 2013
- Malwarebytes Anti-Malware
- Free YouTube Downloader
- Internet Download Manager
- YTD Video Downloader
- WinRAR (32-bit)
- Advanced SystemCare
- Camfrog Video Chat
- VLC Media Player
- Virtual DJ
- Download Accelerator Plus (DAP)
- GOM Media Player
- Google Chrome *
- Glary Utilities
- Ad-Aware Free Antivirus +
- Mozilla Firefox *
And the final screenshots of each browser:
Internet Explorer 9
Google Chrome 21.0.1180.89m
Overall, my IE didn't end up looking as hijacked as the one at Free Fixer — in fact, Firefox is almost as bad. Chrome might look like it faired the best, but you can see a couple of unwanted extensions in the top-right corner and my Chrome home page certainly wasn't... whatever it is now.
Why my IE doesn't look as bad as the Free Fixer one likely has to do with the fact he was using Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Vista, while I was using Internet Explorer 9 and Windows 7.
Some things I noted while running the install gauntlet:
- Crashes. Lots and lots of crashes. Explorer (that is, the file manager) stopped responding a few times as I pounded Windows with installer after installer.
- The only app to include CNET's download "wrapper" was PhotoScape, so the toolbars and other adware in the rest of the programs is completely the fault of the developer.
- Firefox opened up an "install add-on" tab for each add-on as it tried to install, providing an additional vetting process beyond the source application's installer.
- Chrome and IE had vetting processes too, but they weren't as obvious as Firefox's.
- Funnily enough, because AVG was one of the first things I installed, it put a stop to most attempts to change my home page. Most.
- Man, there are a lot of crappy programs on the internet.
- Of course, I had to install Firefox and Chrome beforehand, so those items were skipped in the top 20.
I should stress there's no ulterior motive here — I was just curious to see how many installers sought out Firefox and Chrome for their toolbars and extensions, in addition to IE.