How to Avoid Getting Burned by 'Sneakware'

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Dear Adobe,

You almost got me. After opening a PDF in Adobe Reader 9, I decided to accept your pop-up offer to upgrade to version 10 (also known as Adobe Reader X). A few seconds later, I was staring at your download page, with its bright yellow Download now button just waiting for my click. Easy-peasy.

But then, with my index finger poised over the mouse button, I noticed something on the righthand side of the page--you know, the area often reserved for ads. In fact, it kind of looked like an ad, which is why my eyes initially passed over it. But then I looked closer, and here's what I saw:

Hey! You were going to sneak McAfee Security Scan Plus onto my system, as evidenced by the already checked Include in your download box. I wonder how many thousands of users never noticed that, then sat there scratching their heads trying to figure out how this mysterious security utility ended up on their systems. I wonder how many suspected it of being a fake, then wasted time and/or money trying to remove it. I wonder what kind of impact the software had on system performance, especially on machines already equipped with other security software. (When these kinds of tools overlap, they can actually cause problems.)

Bad Adobe. Bad! Alas, you're not the only culprit of this obnoxious behavior. As I wrote in How to Avoid Unwanted Toolbars, "many shareware, freeware, and even commercial programs try to slip in a browser toolbar during installation; and if you're not paying attention, you might click right past the setup screen that lets you opt out. For example, when you install a Java update, you'll end up with the Yahoo Toolbar unless you uncheck a box along the way."

There's only so many times I can caution readers to pay close, careful attention when installing anything--even from a company as seemingly trustworthy as yours. How about you accept a little of the responsibility? If you're going to try to shovel unwanted third-party software onto users' systems, at least leave the box unchecked by default.

Remember, users have plenty of alternatives to Adobe Reader--like, say, Sumatra PDF. Do you really want to give them another reason to switch?

Your friend in computing,


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