If you're among the countless Web-goers who rely CNET's Download.com to acquire new software, you might want to tread carefully on your next visit. According to scattered complaints this week, the site has begun infusing many of its hosted program installers with opt-out bloatware. The popular software portal has gradually implemented various monetization schemes over the years, but this is undoubtedly the least kosher method we've seen.
Instead of providing the plain, unadulterated installation file, Download.com now wraps the program in a proprietary installer that by default installs bloatware such as toolbars along with changing your browser's default search engine and homepage. It's only after you uncheck those options (or fall prey to the trap by rapidly clicking "next") that the true program installer launches. Few users would consciously agree to install unknown junkware.
Developers commonly use this approach to drive revenue and freeware is often bundled with opt-outs. However, there's a difference between a developer injecting its own program with adware and a third-party file host using said program as a vehicle to serve its own adware. ExtremeTech notes that such actions likely violate the distribution terms of many programs, but Download.com has surely tweaked its terms of service to cover its backside.
We haven't seen an official comment by CNET yet, but Upload.com's FAQ simply says the proprietary installer will benefit users because it's an additional step toward providing "safe, secure and spyware-free" downloads. From our understanding, the wrapper exists on much of CNET's catalog and will be added to any newly uploaded or updated software. You'll know if a download contains the installer because its filename will begin with "cnet_".
Call it a shameless plug, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that TechSpot offers a download section and we don't impregnate the files with any such nonsense. In fact, we'd sooner close the section than resort to such shenanigans, and that's straight from the boss man himself. Other download sites include Softpedia, MajorGeeks, FileHippo and FilesCrunch (a TechSpot-owned portal). Feel free to share your favorite alternatives in the comments.