Bundling software applications together is a practice much abused by purveyors of adware. The potential for sneaking unwanted software into a bundle of desirable software is obvious. The benefits of bundling software aren’t so obvious. Isn’t it time to consider dumping the practice of bundling software altogether?
Bundled Software: When Is It Not Adware?
If a user wants a piece of software, why can’t he or she be allowed to install it separately? If the bundled software were essential to the functioning of the original software (excluding generic functions such as install, un-uninstall, and documentation), why wouldn’t the developer build its functions directly into the original software?
Sure, sometimes there’s a software application that clearly complements another application. But for users who do not want the complementary software, having it just means a bloated install file and a needlessly long installation process.
Does the chance that users will want the bundled software ever outweigh the risk of the bundled software being installed without the user noticing? In the case of adware, the technology community is increasingly willing to put the burden of proof on the adware bundlers:
⇒ Cnet’s download.com website recently removed any and all software that comes bundled with another piece of software that shows advertising, regardless of how well informed the user is the bundled software.
⇒ Affiliate networks such as Commission Junction and Colombo have either cautioned advertisers against accepting adware distributors into their affiliate programs or kicked them out altogether.
⇒ Many technology law experts are saying that the click-wrap license agreements that supposedly legitimate adware are not proof of informed consent. Some experts even say that such agreements amount to unconscionable contracts: the burden imposed by adware is so great and the benefit offered so negligible.
Adware and Bundled Software: A Modest Proposal
If the spam arms race is any indication, we may soon face even more aggressive attempts to get adware on our computers. There will be even more tortured arguments that bundled adware is installed with users’ informed consent. Why not head off any of those arguments right now? Let’s push for an industry standard that reputable developers do not bundle software (with a few highly specific exceptions such as documentation, installation, and error reporting).
In the end, by getting rid of bundled software, what do we have to lose except adware?