CNet betrays its users’ trust by bundling software

By | September 23, 2011
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Steve wonders what’s up with CNet
What’s going on with CNet? I used to download a lot of software from them, but now they have something called a CNet Downloader with something like CBS Interactive. What’s up with them and does their download install some kind of bundle of spyware? Thanks for the great newsletter.

Our answer
Apparently things over at CNet are getting financially tough. So tough, in fact, that CNet has resorted to using a download wrapper that wraps otherwise perfectly safe and good software in a CBS Interactive/CNet bundle which attempts to install a toolbar – and could potentially be used to install whatever else they choose with whatever program you actually wanted.

We think this is a terrible way for CNet to treat its customers, members, subscribers and visitors. This is the kind of cheap, underhanded way of making money that we deplore – and we have steered clear of for many years. But CNet has decided to disregard the trust they’ve earned and to trick visitors coming by wrapping legitimate software in their CBS Interactive/CNet bundler. Yes, it may be noted on their page that you will be using the CNet downloader, but it’s written in such a way as to make it sound beneficial, which it is not, and most people will not even notice it. Shame on CNet.

We’ll not be recommending anyone download anything from CNet any longer. We know times are tough but that’s no reason to trick customers who have come to trust CNet.

We recommend that all of you steer clear of C|Net for downloads.

Here is C|Net’s response to their bundler – and their betrayal of their members and visitors:


Thank you for your feedback.

When you initiate the download, you will encounter a single offer for additional 3rd-party software, which is clearly disclosed and provides the option to accept or decline the offer before proceeding with the download. We only show offers for software that is approved for listing on CNET If you do not wish to use the CNET Installer, we provide a link to the direct HTTP download URL below the main “Download Now” button. You need to be logged in as a CNET member to use this link.

CNET Technical Suppor

However the 3rd-party application is selected by default,  CNet knows as well as we do that many people, when downloading from a site they trust, don’t really read every dialog that an installation file presents. In fact, C|Net does its best to make it look like you’re only getting the file you wanted and not a bundle of one or more other things you don’t want and don’t need. We know for a fact that C|Net serves millions of downloads per week and with the wrapper they’re getting money from someone (whoever makes the 3rd-party software they’re bundling) for every one of those.

C|Net is betraying the trust that it has earned over the years. Times are tough, no doubt, but that is no reason to stab those who trust you in the back. CNet had earned the trust of the Internet community – it took them years to earn that kind of trust. But we know it won’t take them long to lose it. They’ve already lost our trust. We’ll never download anything from CNet again – and we’ll be pulling our files off C|Net as soon as we can.

31 thoughts on “CNet betrays its users’ trust by bundling software

  1. S.M. Corbin

    I recently downloaded a program from CNET and wound up with a toolbar that I didn’t want and had selected NOT to install. I had a devil of a time getting rid of the toolbar. CNET really should rethink this issue. It is a great disservice to those of us who have previously counted on their good reputation and integrity.

  2. Jonathan

    Is this really “violating our trust”? Better this than having to pay for a subscription to CNet, or more realistically, going out of business.

    Besides, how hard is it to just go a bit slower and take the time to uncheck the box? If you blindly click ahead on any program, you’re asking for something like this to happen.

    1. infoave Post author

      Yes it’s violating your trust. We have had offers from “legitimate” software companies to “bundle” with our software – for 50 cents to $1 per download. Even if we left the option for users to uncheck – we know the theory that CNET uses – few read the dialog windows. If you want to blame that on people’s negligence that’s fine. Do you read the fine print of every contract you sign? Maybe you do, but most don’t. And if CNET didn’t believe that and they really felt they were offering something of value, then why not let the user CHECK the box instead of having it already checked. You know the answer.

      It’s one thing when a mom and pop shop struggling for survival stoop to this level – but another when CBS/Ziff Davis, with executives making tens of millions of dollars in bonuses, rip off their customers in order to parlay the purloined funds into bonuses and pay raises for already over-paid executives. CBS bought CNET in 2008 for $1.8 billion dollars. If a company with revenue in the hundreds of millions is struggling, then perhaps they should cut some of its executives salaries instead of trying to nickel and dime people and trying to trick its customers. And that’s just what they’re doing. You’re point was – what’s so hard about unchecking a box? My point is – why is that box there in the first place? And why is it checked by default? If what their bundling is so awesome, why not leave the boxes unchecked by default? Because, they get paid for every download, and most aren’t going to uncheck those boxes. So not only is CNET cheating its users – they install potentially unwanted software on a person’s private property – their PC.

      And I want to further point out that unchecking the box does NOT prevent an unwanted toolbar from being installed. In fact, in one case, we stopped the installation before it finished and were left with an unwanted toolbar. If you think the way companies should make money is to use their knowledge of people’s inherent trust, knowing most users don’t read dialogs to take advantage of them, then you also believe people who use weak passwords deserve to have their identities stolen too.

      I disagree with you. CNET practices border on trickery and I will never visit their site again. It’s not like there aren’t other sites I can download from. CNET’s reviews have always been taken with a grain of salt, at least by me. It seems whoever paid them the most in promotional consideration always got the highest ratings. PC Magazine does essentially the same thing.

      Trying to find the unbiased truth is hard enough without site sites like CNET joining the ranks of FUNWEBPRODUCTS/SMILEYCENTRAL.

      1. Jonathan

        Perhaps it does not seem like a violation of trust to me because I never trusted them in the first place. For that matter, I don’t trust any download site or installer package. None is trustworthy enough for me to blindly click ahead.

        Is it annoying? Absolutely. Yet we all should have gotten used to it a long time ago.

        Still, a boycott of CNet is difficult at this point. For example, the official Malwarebytes download is hosted by CNet. We can probably find other sites it is hosted on (legally or otherwise), but is it really worth the time?

  3. John in Oz

    I used ZNet many years ago, which turned into CNet. I was aware of their ‘bundler’ when it first appeared, and they wanted me to register with them. No way, Jose. Hard to trust anyone these days, except TC & EB.

  4. Patricia

    Hey TC & EB, Have you any recommendations for us that need to download a program now that we can’t trust CNet?

  5. Katydid

    Hi, Just been reading the above about CNet bundled software. Darn me, just did a download with CNet of that program Disk Max that you mentioned this morning. I did click on three things they asked if I wanted, one was a downloader I think, and I said NO. Can they still sneak it on anyway? This greyhaired granny cant think off hand what the downloader was called !!!
    Thanks for the warning, keep it up. TC and EB You have a lot of trust from a lot of folk, on your shoulders. Thanks again Katydid, a Kiwi from the (Land of the Long White Cloud), New Zealand

  6. Jeff Turner

    Yes! I agree with TC & EB on this issue!(As usual) I have always avoided CNET if possible. (Like the plague) Firstly, because of the down load speed being most times only around 30 to 40 Kbs here in South Australia, which means big downloads take too long! Then lately I come across this issue of wanting to install a down load manager, which infuriated me and I said “STUFF YOU CNET” and pulled the pin! (I got my download another way) I have my own download manager and don’t need somebody else’s, THANK YOU! It cannot be emphasized too much when downloading things, to check all the details, other wise you will be installing some tool bar or something you don’t want! (Maybe ok Maybe not)

  7. Pam

    Thank you both, again. I have used CNet many times to download programs. Not any more! It’s really getting tough trying to figure out who we can trust and who we can’t. We all knnow we can rely on TC amd EB to direct us in the right direction.

  8. Jeannie Steen

    I agree, this CNet is a pain. I went instead to and found the sofeware I wanted with no unwanted tool bars to install. Keep up the good work.

  9. Muriel

    Thanks for the heads-up TC. Without your watchful eye and fair and objective assessments of many things, I have no idea what I would do. You are a blessing to all of us.

    I want to download you Zappit Program for my new laptop.
    I believe CNET was the download site from which I downloaded Zappit for my XP desktop years ago.

    In view of CNET’s current policies, I will not be using them again. Where should I go to get Zappit now?

  10. Cindy

    I have noticed this as well on CNet and have been using Majorgeeks to download some programs. I have had no problems with them as far as sneaking in any kind of programs under the guise of the my download. What is your opinion of Majorgeeks?

    1. infoave Post author

      MajorGeeks is OK. Sometimes they put ads where the download buttons should be – so you have to use care to download the right program…and not something else…

  11. Max

    Something I’ve done successfully on many occasions to avoid using a third party like CNet to download a program I believe I might be interested in, is simply copy the name of the program from the CNet page that’s promoting it and paste it into my search engine (usually Google), which many times reveals the author’s website from which I can then download it directly. After all, that’s what TC and EB always give you the link to – the author’s website, not some third party. I definitely appreciate that and all the work they do to help keep the world of computers and Internet a safer place. Thanks TC and EB.

    1. infoave Post author

      This is a good solution too. Usually you can google the name of the program and find many different download alternatives. The important thing is not to use CNET. If everyone stopped downloading from them, they’d realize they’re not going to make money from tricking people and they’d find a more legitimate way to fund their executive’s salaries.

  12. Jancie M.

    AMEN! Thanks so much for your warning…once again! TC & EB, I want you to know, I really don’t trust anyone on the net…EXCEPT YOU TWO! I always wait to see what you have to say BEFORE I download anything. Please keep up the great work; I will do my best to donate when I can. You have helped so many of us, we’d be lost without you!

  13. Jonny B!

    They finally got CNET too….

    What a shame, time to go to someone else to get my favorite downloads. Goodbye CNET, we knew thee well.

    RIP CNET, it was fun while it lasted..

  14. grayeagle

    You guys are the top 1 of 2 whose advice is always much appreciated. Once again thanks for your frank and well-reasoned (“seasoned”?) opinion. CNET is now removed from my “Download Sites” bookmarks.

  15. vna

    I will be no longer downloading from them either. I will go to filehippo, majorgeeks, or snapfiles to get my downloads from now on. bad move CNET.

  16. Greg B

    WOW, you seen the look of this Cnet troup on their email page? OMG; Young smart heads who got a brilliant idea for their corporate masters? Wonder what would have happened if they actually put some thought into it…CBS…

  17. Kev100

    FileHippo is a good alternative. They not only have most popular current freeware…but also keep many previous versions for older OS’s as well as no-longer-published but still very useful freeware.

    I’ve always liked CNET…but that download-sneak was a disappointment.

  18. Ronald Thompson

    This whole idea is bunk! I will no longer use cnet for a damn thing! Twice I have recently downloaded something and without knowing “then” where it came from, notice my PC slowing down to a crawl. So ok I was sure it could NEVER have been Cnet….right? Well one more time I downloaded something and seen the mentioned “option” to include “trusted bundled” software! I of course declined to add it. Guess what, it added it anyway! The “direct site” thing doesn’t work either cause I got the same BS. Funmoods is a phishing virus disguised as a toolbar. Not only that, software available from them is NOT true authorized versions, or at least different from what you CAN usually download directly from the owner site.

  19. Wayne

    I trusted CNET for news and download for many years. When I accidentally installed CutePDF from them on 5/10/2013 with CNET downloader, it installed all these garbage spamware. I will no longer use nor trust CNET news anymore. This is outrageous how they make legitimate free software look bad with their bloatware.

  20. Shel

    I don’t have a problem with having to review the installation screens and unchecking programs I DON’T want. Cnet is just trying to make a buck…fine. At least I get the choice if I’m relatively careful. I do have a HUGE problem with being careful, reading all of the screens, unchecking all of the boxes, and STILL ending up with unwanted software. I downloaded a simple solitaire game today and also got some backup assistant software and a Chrome extension that Cnet DID NOT warn me was automatically coming along for the ride. Spent about 30 minutes searching, uninstalling, and doing registry cleaning to get rid of the crap. Thanks Cnet! I have used Cnet as a trusted source of software downloads for a long time. Never again. Hidden crap. CAN’T BE TRUSTED.

  21. Robert Dent

    I’ve just wasted the better part of a day dealing with unwanted donations from CNet. I used to consider them the final checkpoint for avoiding surprises before downloading new software. Never again!

  22. DeathGateMinion

    Yeah, it’s the end of 2013 and they are still at it, causing grief for all their unwary victims. Obviously they don’t care about user experience nor even their long term reputation – they are only interested in short term gain attained by advertising revenue.

    What I find more annoying about them is that they come up in your search results when you are looking for product info and reviews even when they don’t have any content for the product. Yes, they push the same deceit into your search results page.

    I am told by many, if one doesn’t have an actual product to sell, isn’t that what the internet is all about? Using every possible trick to get someone to visit your site so you can collect advertising revenue? Ok, I see their point.

    Lesson: If you can’t match wits with a lawyer, then you shouldn’t be clicking around online looking for free stuff.


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