Toolbars and questionable ethics about opt-outs

Something that bothers me and many others are the added programs when you install or update software, especially free software. My fiancee recently installed Skype and got Yahoo set as her start page in every browser on the computer, I updated JAVA and got the Yahoo AND SeachYa toolbars installed automatically into FireFox. The problem arises because they use opt-outs instead of opt-ins, that is that you have to click a button to NOT get it installed instead of the rest of the installers functions where you have to click to get it installed. This is also many times true for newsletters and ads when you sign up for things on the web.

There are many such examples, and Yahoo isn’t the only culprit here. This is nothing short of questionable ethics when it comes to these opt-outs, but who is to blame?

 

This is a form of advertisement, the owner of the software gets a bit of money (usually very small bit) for everyone who installs the side-software. The developer does give it to you for free, but it’s not free to develop, so it’s understandable that they wanna push the price of the software to someone they know can afford it, the Big Company (my name for just about every company most people think of when they hear the word). They sign up for an account on a website and are given an installer to put their software in and that’s it, they just need to wait for people to use it and watch the money roll in (veeeery sloooowly).

It is the companies that put the opt-out-function in the installer, because the usability laws that most programmers use states that the more conventional something is to use, the better it is for the user. The user is used to this and therefore they will just click that “next” button as long as it is not grayed out, sometimes checking if everything looks OK at a first glance, but they don’t want to read every text on every one of the 6-10 screens these installers have, so the eyes often goes to the shapes and forms. It’s a checkbox, next to it it says “I Agree”, and that is usually what is needed, they miss the part where it says “that you can install stuff that I haven’t asked for, that will slow down my computer and put ads for a company not related to this software all over my screen”.

People who installs a lot of softwares already knows this, but I can guarantee you that every one who reads this have at some point gotten that annoying toolbar or that annoying ad service or those annoying mail spams shoved down their throats at some point, and that’s how you learned how to avoid it. However, those who doesn’t install softwares that often or doesn’t know that much about computers are easy pray for these tactics. The screenshot used here is from a recovered computer I got from my grandfather, who had only used it for his bills, facebook and a chatting software, nothing else, yet it is riddled with these toolbars and popups. Every time an update to the chat software he used came, he pressed “yes” and then mindlessly pressed “next”, not really sure what was needed for the program to work and what he could deselect.

 

I don’t put all the blame on the companies, or on the developers either, the browser developers share this blame. On the outside, Mozilla is working hard to prevent such things, but still they have removed all the text in the menu and even made the menu into a single button that only says the name of the browser. From this menu, that isn’t really apparent for a less tech-savy person that it is a meny, you have to click on add-ons, again, not that apparent for a less tech-savy person. From there you have to navigate to Extensions, another undescriptive name. And this only works if the application have used the right variables to set it up, something SeachYa and Yahoo Toolbar doesn’t, so they can’t be found there.

Instead, you have to right-click on the right spot, just above the “home” button (that has a house on it, no text), a bit to the left, so the mouse is between the button and the search bar. This is the ONLY place where you can right-click to get the menu to deselect these toolbars. Try explaining that to your grandmother over the phone, when it’s hard enough to teach her how to use bookmarks! Why isn’t there any more obvious options for this? And Firefox is probably the easiest one to do this on, Chrome and IE doesn’t even have the texts at all, just symbols everywhere. I’m a web developer and don’t know what half the symbols on Chrome stands for!

 

So here is my solution for this: I boycot every company that uses a toolbar like this with an opt-out instead of an opt-in option hidden in the installers! You’ll never see me using Yahoo over any other search engine or service, you’ll never see me use MSN over any other media service or TorrentFreakz over any other file-sharing app, just on principle, because they use these tactics to get more visible at the expense of the users computer resources, screen visibility and usability in an unethical way.

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