When antivirus firm Avira began warning its users that software installed from download site Freemium.com came bundled with "potentially unwanted applications," the site demanded that the security firm stop blocking its downloads.
Yet Freemium.com's practice of bundling other programs violated Avira's code of conduct for applications, so the security company continued to warn its customers and continued blocking the site's downloads. Companies that surreptitiously install applications for money are pushing the boundaries of ethics and cause consumers to mistrust software firms, Travis Witteveen, CEO of Avira GmbH, told eWEEK.
"They broke all reasonable levels of what can be considered acceptable behavior," Witteveen said. "They are making a ton of money, but they are doing it in a way that the entire software industry is suffering."
While Freemium.com responded by filing an injunction, a German court sided with the antivirus firm in late June, allowing it to continue to classify the slyly downloaded programs as potentially unwanted, according to Avira.
The judgment is one of the latest signs that consumers and the legal system are pushing back against increasing efforts by publishers, manufacturers and software developers to get paid for loading up users' systems with questionable software, add-ons and toolbars, often referred to by frustrated consumers as "crapware" or "bloatware." Companies that attempt to make money by surreptitiously installing software are facing increasing consumer wrath.
"This ruling establishes a major legal milestone in the fight against misleading consumers into unintentionally installing unwanted software onto their computers," Witteveen said in a statement at the time. "We believe in 'freemium' and advertising-supported business models; however, they must remain transparent and ethical in their implementation."
Freemium.com is not the only site to install unwanted software for cash. In a survey of installed behavior with CNET's Download.com, consumer technology site HowToGeek found that installing the top-10 downloads from the site resulted in a bevy of unwanted software, being installed on the user's system.
"There are also no safe freeware download sites … it isn't just CNET Downloads that is doing the bundling, it's EVERYBODY," the review stated. "The freeware authors are bundling crapware, and then lousy download sources are bundling even more on top of it. It's a cavalcade of crapware."
Earlier this year, Chinese PC maker Lenovo faced outrage when consumers learned that the company had begun installing an adware program, known as Superfish on some of its PCs. In May, Slashdot's developer site Sourceforge had to defend itself after the site began wrapping downloads of "abandoned" software projects in installers that would offer to install paid products including, ironically, the antivirus software Norton, made by Symantec.