Four Tips for Freeware Safety

Free software, or freeware, is a part of what makes today's technology landscape so exciting. It's great that general users can download workable solutions for, say, editing images or blocking malware. When users download free applications, though, they sometimes get more than they bargained for. Sometimes the developers or purveyors of free apps bundle other programs with them, and a lot of the time, they don't exactly go out of their way to tell you that they're doing that.

In most cases, these "extras" aren't necessarily malicious. They're just annoying add-ons that you don't need and that add to the general clutter within your system. Sometimes, though, they do things like record your browsing or purchasing history to help targeted advertising, which doesn't sit kindly with a lot of users.

This bundling is usually technicaly legal because, in the process of downloading a free app, you have to go through an installation manager that, somewhere, in potentially very fine print, does tell you about everything you're about to download. They may hide a mention of the extra software inside a dauntingly long user agreement, or they may make a list of everything that's going to be downloaded available in a place where most users aren't likely to look.

The bottom line here is that, while free apps are great, users should proceed with caution and vigilance when downloading them. Here's a list of tips for how to proceed:

  1. Don't get "Next" happy: We know, we know--it's hard not to just keep clicking the "Next" button on an installation manager; you want your software, and you want it now. In order to avoid unwanted software, though, it's important to slow down and actually read what you're doing so that you catch action steps you don't actually want.
  2. Watch for the "Decline" button: If you see a "Decline" button show up in an installation manager, it's very likely that you're about to download something you didn't initially choose. Read the prompts carefully, and decline anything you don't want.
  3. Always choose "Custom" installations: A lot of installation managers give you an option for a "custom" installation, which in many cases will allow you to select exactly which programs you want to download. Don't worry--you don't have to be a tech expert to follow this path!
  4. At least skim the user agreement or terms and conditions: No one wants to take the time to read through a bunch of legal gobbledegook, but, especially with free apps, it is important to take them seriously. At least skim through them, looking for mentions of other programs you didn't sign up to download.