Deceptive Toolbar Practices

For all the grief we've given companies who bundle third-party junk with their products over the years, I'm seeing a really disturbing trend in the software space. Yahoo and Google seem to be desperate to get their toolbar on my computer in a manner that borders on deceptive. I'm not talking about downloading the toolbar directly from Yahoo or Google. I'm not even talking about downloading the version of Firefox that clearly tells users it includes the Google Toolbar. I'm talking about instances where I download one application, only to find out it's trying to get me to opt out of installing a toolbar from either Yahoo or Google. These are tactics learned from the spyware industry.

I purchased an eBook from last night which included Adobe's DRM. No problem, I agreed to the terms at the time of purchase. In order to use the book on all the machines I want to, I needed to install the Adobe Reader v7 on a couple machines, because I hadn't updated all my computers. After downloading the update through the Adobe update tool, I'm offered the Yahoo Toolbar. I successfully avoided it by opting out during one update, because I don't want the Yahoo Toolbar, but somehow it managed to install on the other machine. I'm not sure how I missed it and I don't remember seeing the opt-out on that machine.

That's where the real problem lies. Opting-out. When I download software from Adobe, I'm not looking for Yahoo's Toolbar. I didn't check a box in Adobe's update tool that says please give me third party apps and software updates. Adobe makes the process very clear online, but I went through the built-in update tool in Adobe Reader 6. I understand Adobe probably gets paid for every Yahoo Toolbar install and I'm sure they need the money, but I didn't agree to download a Yahoo product and I certainly didn't mean to install it. At the very least, Adobe should offer me the opportunity to opt in (not out). Both Yahoo and Adobe should be ashamed of such deceptive practices.

Google isn't off the hook either. DivX still bundles the Google Desktop with new downloads of DivX Player and defaults to installing rather than giving me the choice of opting in. I shouldn't have to opt-out of something that Google is even admitting poses a potential security risk. Only if I click the DivX Play more info page do I find out that the DivX player includes Google Desktop in addition to "Play any DivX video; Add DivX playback support to your existing media player; Rent and purchase high-quality DivX movies" If Google wants to pay to have Google Desktop bundled with popular apps, fine. Just offer better disclosure in the process and let me opt-in.

I don't know whether Yahoo and Google are directly at fault, but they certainly have control over how their products are represented by the people marketing them. Adobe Reader and DivX Player are among the most downloaded files on the Web, which is why they are paired with the apps in the first place. If you're going to try to sell me someone else's product during the install process, at the very least, allow me to choose to accept, don't default to installing something I never asked for in the first place.

What's your take? Discuss your experiences with toolbars as third-party bundles at Digital Media Thoughts.