CNet's secretly installs adware with open/free downloads

CNet's has been secretly installing adware alongside the free and open source software in its archive, in violation of its own stated policies, which claim "zero tolerance" for adware. EFF has some harsh words and stern advice for the company to make this right.

So, CNET, here's what you need to do to really make it right:

Stop bundling adware into your installer. Failing that,

1. Rewrite your adware policy to admit that no longer has a “zero tolerance” policy for bundled adware, and make the change public, so users and developers know about it.
2. If you are going to allow ads, make sure they are not deceptive. This means it should be very clear that the ad is entirely separate from the install process (and no “accept” buttons where “next step” should be), and that the developer of the software the user actually wants has nothing to do with the advertised app.
3. Clean up the mess: prominently offer, on the front page of the site and as part of the ads themselves, to assist users with uninstalling any advertised software they may have unknowingly installed.
4. Right now, many users won’t know they can download the software without the adware. Direct download should be the default process, and users who choose to use the installer should know, before they do, that the process will include advertising or other software they might not want.
5. Until the “opt-in” procedure is well-established, cease bundling adware for commercial as well as open source applications.

The Debacle: What CNET Needs to Do to Make it Right


  1. used to be a great place to get freeware programs.  It used to be you would just download them like any other file.   Recently they started making you install their adware-containing download manager.  

    I would no longer recommend them to anyone.

    1. Yeah I remember… think it was called winfiles. It was part of cnet a decade ago. Good stuff. They had straight links to source sites. They’ve fallen pretty far apparently.

      1. Also, CNET bought to use for Are there any good Windows sites like it that show the newest releases? :(

  2. This is funny. Nobody knows that this was going on for years at Cnet? I paid extra for my iMac so I wouldn’t have to go through crap.

    1. I paid extra for my iMac so I wouldn’t have to go through crap.

      quietstorms, from what I’ve seen they didn’t do this to Mac users, just complacent Windows users because Mac users would have probably burned CNET to the ground.
      Also, if you think you paid “extra” for your iMac you should compare the specs more closely.  There’s lots of features embedded in Macs that pull them FAR ahead in overall value and many of the competition is deceptive and allusive about that so many consumers fall for it (over and over again).

      quietstorms, check your Mac for adware.  You probably don’t have any.

        1. Agreed, Linux has many advantages especially in security and that’s why I use Linux on my Mac in Parallels for certain work.

          I look forward to the day when Linux’s disadvantages stop outweighing the advantages for my own workflow (as well as for most other people) and I can switch to using Linux full time.

          In security, Linux wins hands down. Practicality is quite another matter.

    1. I work for CNET’s parent company … the reaction has been wildly overblown

      CNET probably hopes you stop “helping”.  Saying crap like that just makes people think you folks have learned nothing.  Which is probably true.

      1. And I see they didn’t agree to change their social engineering techniques to trick users into installing the adware software – like button placement and styling.

        I guess the drive for moneytizing the Internet overrides any common sense for companies.

    2. Oh, that’s right: the people that you are foisting this crapware on aren’t your customers, are they? You are selling them, their eyeballs and their machines to other companies without their consent or knowledge. No wonder you don’t give a damn about them.

      Typical corporate parasitism at work. Typical blindness to it in your attitude (why else would you go out of your way to jam your foot in your mouth as you have with this anti-PR statement, if not for sheer bias and ignorance?).

      I own my machine, not you. Kindly get stuffed.

  3. CNET’s apology sounds less than genuine.  He goes out of his way to several times to say that they’re removing that crap from open source software.  Makes it very clear that they’re not going to allow it in open source software.  Err….what about everything else?  Still bundling stuff in there?

  4. CNET in and of itself has become crap. From terribly written “articles” to blatant fan boy-ism. I am not surprised.

    1. I found their mobile phone reviews helpful for comparing features, at least.

      But when looking for a file, and some joint like CNET wants to install some bullshit ‘download manager’?

      Hah! I run a mile.

  5. I was wondering what the hell was going on. doesn’t seem to try and pull this crap on Mac users, but over a year ago or so I downloaded open source VLC for a friend on Windows (via and was surprised to see the software encrusted in adware.

    I’m so used to Windows software being shitty compared to Mac apps, I kind of forgot about it despite the confusing lack of platform parity.  Windows users put up with things that would make Mac users break out pitchforks, so I kind of brushed it off… but I was definitely perturbed and embarrassed that adware got installed on my friend’s machine that I had to pluck off.

    Also what CNET did to was despicable, so this doesn’t surprise me that these guys from CNET would do such a thing.  CNET marched in and destroyed the community that helped to build up macfixit forums by making many older forums too slow and inaccessible.

    The community left en masse and now the commentary is a cesspool of butthurt Windows trolls.  Macfixit is still a great source of info because of the great blogger there named Topher but that’s despite CNET, not because of it.

    The folks running CNET have shabby ethics.  Typical corporatist scum.  This adware has wasted my time and I would definitely welcome a class action lawsuit to help us all get compensation for that wasted time and teach CNET a lesson in business ethics it obviously needs to learn with a smack upside its collective head.

  6. I am an independent developer. I was furious when I found out they had added their crappy toolbar installer to my PerfectTablePlan software without even telling me. I told them to remove my software from their site, which they appear to have done. is not the only download site engaged in shady practices. The download sites use to perform a valuable function, but they have been rendered increasingly irrelevant as search engines improves. I think we are seeing their final death throes.

    1. I cracked the shits with Windows a few months ago and decided to try Linux again, so I installed Ubuntu.

      Despite a couple of days’ research, I was unable to get the extra buttons on my Logitech mouse going. Also, Flash in FF is totally broken, and I have no idea how to bitchslap the OS into letting me watch vid without horrible amounts of frame tearing.

      There are plenty of things I like about Ubuntu, but the above issues are deal-breakers for me. I’m sure they can probably be resolved, but I get the impression I’d need to be steeped in *nix lore to stand a chance; every time I try to research a fix, I’m met with a vertical learning curve.

      So, I installed bloody Vista again.

      1. You make live discs of the Linux flavors you like to try. 
        So painless. 

        I decided for Kubuntu.  Everything works. The way. I want it to. 

  7. Always wondered how Bing was gaining market share… now we know… Microsoft has been paying companies like this to switch users default search engines on the sly using their toolbar crap wrappers…

  8. OK, so until or unless removes all bundled adware from any of their software for downloading, the recommendation seems to be to avoid them.

    But, for those of us still using PC’s, with XP OS no less, what download sites _are _ recommended for downloading free and open source software, apps, etc. that do _not_ bundle adware with them?

    It  would be nice to know what  the best, most recommended alternative download sites are , for both PC and Mac ( I use both), that do _not_ bundle  adware, either openly or covertly, for downloading are.

    Suggestions, please?


      …Actually, I discovered a sweet way to get ‘recommendations’ – sort by number of seeds, and look down through the list at the oldest torrents. This tells you what the most popular (by a large margin) software is.

    2. For Windows (and Mac), Softpedia AFAIK doesn’t stink up the place with crapware/adware, but I may be wrong :

      For Mac, there’s the always improving which AFAIK doesn’t stink up the place with crapware/adware either.

      For Mac, I use because it has a cleaner interface, but I also have a LaunchBar custom search template I made with softpedia to search far more detailed changelogs which macupdate is sorely lacking.

      There used to be which was great until those bastards at CNET absorbed it and now it’s borged into and it became a bloated, slow loading mess full of distractions.  To be fair, doesn’t seem to attach adware to any Mac apps, but I have no reason to trust that they won’t in the future.  And, I have to admit I do like that let’s you get updated via email on software updates for free which is better than which requires a paid subscription.

  9. I look for software at places like and the go to the developers site and download directly. I also do not click on a link I type the url into a new tab so doesn’t even get credit for referring me. Screw them.

  10. download . com has been scraping the net for software to copy to their site for ages.  Despite repeated requests for removal, my firefox extension is still hosted there.  

    Given that, this news is unsurprising.

    (FYI installing a Firefox extension is essentially rooting your browser.  If you don’t trust the author don’t do it.  And definitely don’t install from a non-official site like download . com).

  11. You should take a look at, they do the same thing, and if they’ve even purchased the Google adword for “VLC”.

  12. Cnet’s not “secretly” installing that crap. Look at the screenshot — there’s even a picture.

    Part of the problem here is that people don’t pay attention when they’re installing software.

  13. Hahaha this thread is simply gold. What an ideal opportunity for Mac users to have a puritanical rant about those poor, suffering Windoze users who are resigned to living with sub-standard software and an inefficient workflow.

    social_maladroit, thanks for confirming what I had suspected all along – this is a case of people not reading stuff before they clicked it. See: South Park S15E1. tl;dr READ THINGS BEFORE YOU CLICK THEM.

    To answer those who ask about a decent source for Open Source software, between these two sites you can usually solve most of your computerising needs.
    & (this one’s awesome because you can install them to your USB flash drive)

    PS: Speaking of inefficient workflow.. do any of the people in this thread touting the superiority of Mac have a solution for this? Not being able to search network drives through Lion’s spotlight is kind of a big deal… I’m not just nitpicking –  it’s currently screwing my workflow!

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