Does RealPlayer Deserve 'Badware' Label?
StopBadware.org slaps RealNetworks for disclosure and installation problems, but the software maker says the claims are exaggerated.
The Google-backed StopBadware.org group has explained the thinking behind its decision to slap the "badware" label on two versions of RealNetworks' RealPlayer software, insisting there are serious problems with the installation process and behavior of the products.
But RealNetworks is hitting back, arguing that the claims raised by StopBadware.org doesn't justify the company's flagship media player to carry the embarrassing "badware" tag.
"[The] only thing bad is the report itself," said RealNetworks Vice President Jeff Chasen in a point-by-point reaction to the StopBadware.org report.
StopBadware.org, a non-profit group funded by Google, Sun Microsystems and Lenovo and managed by Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Oxford University's Oxford Internet Institute, takes exception to the Message Center feature in RealPlayer 10.5 and the installation routine when RealPlayer 11 is loaded on a computer.
"Our guidelines state that software that -does not fully, accurately, clearly, and conspicuously disclose the principal and significant features and functionality of the application prior to installation' is badware. We believe that pop-up advertising constitutes a significant feature of any application. To comply with our guidelines, software like RealPlayer which includes pop-up advertising features must fully and conspicuously disclose this behavior to users before the software is installed, to permit users to make informed decisions about whether or not to install the software," the group said in a detailed report.
"It would be best for RealNetworks to conspicuously disclose the presence and features of the Message Center to all users in the installers of all versions of the software," the group added.
In response, RealNetworks' Chasen admitted that the Message Center in the old version was "annoying," but argued that it's not a major sin because users can simply turn it off.
"I turned it off. [It's] not rocket science," Chasen said.
He said the annoyance of the Message Center was shared by a lot of RealPlayer users, prompting the company to turn it off by default in the current version. "Not a single person ever sees it unless they go and turn it on," he said.
The second problem flagged by StopBadware.org affects RealPlayer 11 and centers around the way the software installed the Rhapsody Player Engine without notifying the user at the time the software is installed.
"[It also] fails to remove this software when RealPlayer is uninstalled or otherwise inform the user that the software will need to be uninstalled separately from RealPlayer. Since users cannot be expected to know that Rhapsody Player Engine is related to RealNetworks or RealPlayer without this explicit information, many users who intend to reverse the installation of RealPlayer 11 may inadvertently allow the Rhapsody Player Engine software to remain on their computers," StopBadware.org said.
Chasen conceded that the group's claim had some validity but said that consumers will not be hurt by what he calls "an oversight."
"It's that someone failed to explain the connection between the two (RealPlayer is a universal media player, so we install support for all major media formats like Windows Media Player, QuickTime and, yes, our own Rhapsody), and that we also didn't catch that in the uninstall process," he said. "As far as we know, no one has been hurt by this mistake. In the software business we call that a bug and we fix it in our next version of the software."