You’ve heard of them: free anti-spyware software. You’ve probably been tempted to click on the popup or email that brought you the offer.
While some anti-spyware shareware is legitimate and helpful, there are rogue programs out there that take on the opposite role after you download. Like the proverbial ”wolf in a sheepskin,” some anti-spyware programs contain spyware in disguise.
Think about it: what would motivate an organization to give you free anti-spyware? Online, your habits are gold to marketers who want to sell you something; they want to know where to find you. Before you download any anti-spyware freebee, do your homework and then consider the true cost.
Let’s take a look at what you actually receive with free anti-spyware, even genuine freeware that comes from reputable sources.
Due to limited resources, legitimate anti-spyware freeware offers users fewer features than do their commercial counterparts. Why? They can’t afford to.
Spybot is a typical anti-spyware freebee from a legitimate source (offered without embedded spyware). On the Spybot freeware FAQ page, the Spybot author tells users why Spybot doesn’t detect nearly as many cookies as commercial anti-spyware programs detect:
Q: Why do other anti-spyware applications detect so many more tracking cookies?
A: Some anti-spyware applications have started to detect nearly every third-party cookie they find as a tracking cookie. In many cases, that is more or less correct... But instead of bloating our detection database with thousands of cookies out there, we [Spybot] prefer recommending to change your browser settings a bit to block out all these third party cookies before they even come into your system.
While adjusting your browser settings helps, people use anti-spyware to find and remove spyware. Spybot can’t detect the thousands of cookies stored on your machine because the programmer, by his own admission, doesn’t keep the cookie database current. (And who can blame him? He’s not receiving a paycheck.) So, Spybot freeware falls short on this anti-spyware task.
Freeware is written by teckies, for teckies. This may not be intentional, but it’s a fact. Freeware programmers don’t go out of their way to make their programs accessible and user-friendly to beginners. Often, freeware offers colorful program skins but the programs themselves lack intuitive organization.
And sometimes even the teckies don’t get it. Stephen Weaver, an experienced computer programming and maintenance guru, downloaded an anti-spyware freeware program and, while using it to the best of his ability, screwed up his registry. If it can happen to Steve, it can probably happen to you.
Commercial anti-spyware products, on the other hand, must be accountable for software effectiveness. If the product is difficult to use, customers stop buying it and the company loses money. Commercial software companies are motivated to stay on top in their field. And designing and marketing products for beginners helps their bottom line, so commercial software producers have a vested interest in keeping their software easy and accessible by beginners.
I’ve checked out several freeware programs. All have one thing in common: limited support. While some freeware programs offer FAQ pages, these are often skimpy and outdated. The programmers don’t have the luxury to devote hours of free time to product support.
I haven’t found any freeware packages that offer perks such as live chat, toll-free telephone technical support or regular, predictable email support; this is simply not feasible.
The Price of Freeware
Everyone has to make a buck, even freeware programmers. And who can blame them? Programming is time-consuming work worthy of compensation, and they have hosting costs to cover too.
Say you happen upon free anti-spyware and you’ve determined that the software is legitimate. You decide to download. With the download, the freeware programmers will (without fail) request a voluntary donation from you to keep their freeware ”free.”
Once you make a donation, the software is no longer free. You’ve simply paid money for freeware. You could spend a similar amount on commercial anti-spyware to receive more for your money.
Anytime someone gives something away, there’s a reason. Be wary of advertised freeware from an unfamiliar company. Never click on popups and email ads that promote anti-spyware freeware if you can’t determine that the ad is legitimate. Often, such offers lure naive web surfers into installing spyware instead of removing it.
Of course, Top Ten Reviews occasionally offers free software packages (including anti-spyware) when you purchase a separate item. Legitimate commercial websites make genuine offers using commercial software.
Like any business proposal, learn about who you’re dealing with before you download. Doing so may prevent you some pain and suffering.