Mind the PUP: Top download portals to avoid

We recently researched how many potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) come with the 50 most popular applications on Download.com. Since the results were quite disturbing, we decided to look into the habits of other popular download portals to see if they are any better, or whether it’s better to avoid download portals altogether. Most of them claim to have “clean and safe downloads” and many portals express this on their website. However, trusting any download portal at all is becoming a difficult task for most people due to the rapid growth of bundled PUPs and the software reviews on the sites that often don’t seem objective.

We looked into the ten most popular download portals, downloaded their top ten most popular applications to see how many toolbars, adware, homepage hijackers and other PUPs come with them to see how clean and safe they really are.

What are the top 10 applications on each download portal?

First, here is a list of the top 10 most popular downloads per download portal that we used for this article:

  • Download.com – Avast Free Antivirus, AVG Free Antivirus, CCleaner, YAC, KMPlayer, YTD Video Downloader, Advanced System Care Free, DownloadApp, iObit Uninstaller, Free Youtube Downloader
  • Filehippo – Adobe Reader, CCleaner, Mozilla Firefox, Picasa, Java, Recuva, Skype, uTorrent, VLC Media Player, WINRAR
  • Snapfiles – Avast Free Antivirus, CCleaner, Comodo Internet Security Premium, Auslogics Disk Defrag, Eusing Free Registry Cleaner, Freemake Video Converter, GIMP, PDFX Viewer, Recuva, Revo Uninstaller
  • Softonic – Avast Free Antivirus, BSplayer, Mozilla Firefox, Hotspot Shield, Adobe Flash Player, iObit Malware Fighter, Skype, uTorrent, VLC Media Player, YTD Video Downloader
  • Softpedia – Google Chrome, Malwarebytes Antimalware, Nero Free, Orca, Super Simple Video Converter, Picasa, Image Burn, Skype, Unlocker, Yahoo Messenger
  • Tucows – Express Files, Karaoke Player Software, Network Inventory Advisor, Internet Download Manager, Internet Explorer 8, IrFan View, Internet Explorer 9, Outlook Express, PDF Converter, PDF Reader
  • SourceForge – 7Zip, Audacity, Camstudio, DVD Styler, Filezilla, KeePass, Media Player Classic, Process Hacker, Password Safe, VLC Media Player
  • Filehorse – Avast Free Antivirus, Advanced System Care Free, Adobe Reader, AVG Free Antivirus, Java, Moborobo, Skype, iTunes, VLC Media Player, Winamp Media Player
  • Software Informer – Free Download Manager, Avira Free Antivirus, Avast Free Antivirus, Free 3GP Video Converter, Free MP3 Wma Converter, AVG Free Antivirus, Free Sound Recorder, Free Video to JPG Converter, Free DWG Viewer, 123 Solitaire Free
  • Soft32 – Counterstrike, DC++, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Google Earth, Virtual DJ, Internet Explorer 9, Yahoo Messenger, VLC Media Player, MSN Messenger

Download Portal Mayhem: how many can you safely trust?

We tested all the above mentioned downloads per portal to see how many PUPs come bundled with them. Please note that only PUP programs were counted; potentially unwanted modifications or changes (such as changing the search homepage tab without installing a program) were not. The overall results:

How many of the Top 10 Applications bundle some oft of PUP

How many different PUPs were found bundled by the Top download portals

As you can see, nearly every download portal contained at least one or more PUPs. Out of the ten tested download portals, only SourceForge managed to keep their top software PUP-free. The download portals that should be avoided at all costs are: Download.com, Tucows, and Softonic.

Be careful when clicking the big green Download button

The big green “Download Now” button looks pleasantly appealing to the naked eye; however, what is really hidden within it once you click on it? A massive variety of “Download Now” buttons on several of the top download portals and software vendor websites are unsafe to use because they are in fact cleverly disguised PUP installers. Your desired software will be presented to you at the very end of the installation after being presented with tons of junkware offers and PUPs first. A word of warning: the direct download link will most likely be disguised or even hidden, you may find yourself having to carefully search for it. Below are a few example screenshots of installers that describe this very scenario:


SourceForge may do a good job at keeping their top ten applications PUP-free; however, some PUPs are delivered through optional installs per the freeware vendors choice. Sourceforge provides software developers the option to make cash with their freeware through software bundles, and apparently some software vendors chose to do so as you can see in the above screenshot with the popular Sourceforge application FileZilla.

Soft32 makes no attempt to hide its efforts to push its “smart download manager” which will “smartly” download a plethora of PUPs onto your computer. Once again, the seemingly safe “green” download button betrays a user and the safe direct download link for Avira can be found underneath in very small print. Ironically, PUPs are even bundled with various free antivirus products that are designed to keep your computer free of such threats.


This site is so “clever” that it even incorporate the McAfee Secure logo to further ease a users mind about downloading this software using their “smart download manager”.

Lastly, Software Informer not only hosts a PUP downloader; but, actually warns the user that it “might” contain adware or suspicious components. This is a clear giveaway that you are about to be presented with several unwanted offers and maybe even more before the real installation even begins. Another seemingly suspicious factor that can be taken into consideration is the color coding of the download button. The “download anyway” button is actually presented to the user in an orange type color which is a clear indication that you might want to use caution before clicking it.


Below the PUP downloader, you can actually see several other options. Within the three options, you can find a “Download latest version” button which will present you with a direct vendor download link. Always use the direct vendor download when possible to ensure that your computer will remain PUP- free. 

Top 5 commonly found PUPs across all download portals

Many download portals appear to bundle similar potentially unwanted programs. Some of the below listed PUPs may seem harmless; however, they are bundled in applications unknowingly to the user, and in addition could pose privacy concerns or potential security holes.

PUP Portals it was found on
Download.com, Snapfiles, Filehorse, Software Informer
AVG SafeGuard Toolbar
Download.com, Snapfiles, Softonic, Filehorse, Software Informer
Download.com, Filehorse, Software Informer, Soft32
Search Protect
Download.com, Tucows, Filehippo, Softonic
Pro PC Cleaner
Download.com, Tucows, Softonic

Out of all the similar PUPs, Dropbox and AVG SafeGuard Toolbar are the most common bundled programs across all download portals. Dropbox is seemingly bundled with a plethora of free antivirus software. Spigot and Pro PC Cleaner were most widely distributed on Download.com. Search Protect was found a multitude of times, often bundled with Spigot.

Conclusion: best to stay away from download portals

Out of the top ten download portals 90% bundle PUPs with their top ten software applications. The total number of PUPs found altogether across all download portals totals one-hundred potentially unwanted programs. This result is quite alarming considering only the top ten applications on each portal were sampled. It’s simply better to stay away from download portals altogether.

Here are a few tips to stay clear of PUPs:

  • Ensure that you only download reputable software from a favorable download source and always download and install with caution.
  • Use the direct vendor download approach or used trusted download portals only, such as Majorgeeks. Although many direct vendors include PUPs too, it’s safer to download directly from the source.
  • Run an up to date antivirus program such as Emsisoft Anti-Malware and run frequent scans to check for malware and PUPs.
  • Alternatively, run on demand scans with Emsisoft Emergency Kit which will scan and remove potential malware and PUP infections absolutely free.

Have a wonderful (PUP-free) day!

  • Chris Brende

    An outstanding portal to use as an alternative is ninite.com. Have not experienced any pups from this site and have been using it for years. I run a computer repair computer company and use this site at least 2-5 times a day.

    • Jeremy

      I also use it, not only is it toolbar free, it does not ask 32 or 64 bit.
      GREAT website.

    • ousaf

      ninite is great but it has limited softwares listed checkout filetoss.com totally free from pups and even no ads, pops or any redirects not found on site just direct downloading links and up-to-date

  • Dan

    The only PUP that’s ever sneaked onto my system is Search Protect and it wasn’t easy to remove. A lot of manual labor was involved. I always go to the vendor’s website where you are less likely to get mugged. I’ve downloaded a lot of programs from Download.com without ever having any problems. It’s just a question of paying attention during installation. :-)

    Great article.

    • Rich

      My computer crashed after downloading avg 2014 from there and also Bob Rankin had the same problem and he’s a top Computer Technician.

      • Dan

        Well, I was an IT Professional when I retired 5 years ago after having worked with computers since 1984 (yeah! cool year to start! :-) You don’t specify whether you downloaded from Download.com or the AVG website. I’ve installed AVG on a number of machines without any issues. Downloaded from the AVG website. Mind you, the last time was over a year ago and if I understand what I’ve been reading these past few months correctly things may have changed with AVG. This is why I use Bitdefender. :-) But I can certainly confirm that if you use Download.com, specifically downloads using they’re installer (they do have a few straight downloads) then you should read every page carefully while installing.

        If there’s any advice I can offer it is to make some kind of backup before installing anything new. But that requires time and discipline – something people don’t seem to have much of anymore! :-)

        • Mariska

          Hi, in the case of AVG they bundle a few programs when you download directly from the vendor. In this article we downloaded all the free AVs directly from the vendor website to see what they come with: http://blog.emsisoft.com/2015/01/17/has-the-antivirus-industry-gone-mad/

          Download.com and download portals use their own installer (wrapper) in which case they can add additional PUPs on top of the ones already included in the original vendor product. For example: AVG Free comes with a few pups/ browser customizations when you download directly from their website (mostly white-labeled Ask products). When Download.com hosts AVG they can chose to add additional PUPs in the download.com installer on top of the ones that AVG already comes with, which the parties earn pay per install revenue for.

          • Dan

            Like I said I’ve only gotten caught once by Download.com and that was with Search Protect. Generally speaking I go to the vendor’s site and only download from Download.com if there’s no other choice. But I know their installer well so it doesn’t create any problems. Having said that I haven’t been there in a few months having put a stop to my desire to check out every utility in the Universe! :-) It’s true that an increasing number of vendors bundle third-party software but if you pay attention it’s fairly easy to decide whether you want to proceed or not. I’ve aborted many installs after the first 2 or three screens. Mind you I’ve learned from my years in IT so I’m prepared and careful.

          • Mariska

            Being careful and knowing what to look for is key, and like you mentioned you have more IT knowledge and experience. For the less savvy users (or computer beginners and seniors) this is easier said than done because PUPs are finding more misleading ways to get onto computers. As you can see in the screenshots in case of the download portals for example it can be hard to find the links to the actual installers with sometimes 5 buttons and download ads on a page.

          • Dan

            Until he got an iPad I had to regularly clean a friend’s laptop. Even intelligent people get distracted. :-)

          • normofthenorth

            Mariska, your phrase “the less savvy users (or computer beginners and seniors)” is offensively age-ist. I’m sure the offense was unintentional, but you should parse that phrase, then avoid it for the rest of your life!

            “The less savvy users (or computer beginners…)” is presumably 100% redundant, since virtually all beginners — at anything — are “less savvy” at it. But the “… and seniors” part states clearly that you believe that even MORE savvy seniors have trouble being careful and knowing what to look for when downloading software. Your vulnerable population consists of three groups: the un-savvy, newbies, and people who have reached a certain chronological age. Erm, no, sorry.

            If you look around the web and the remaining print mags about computers and computing, i suspect you’ll find that many or even most of the top gurus in the world — presumably the LEAST PUP-vulnerable group — have reached traditional retirement age. To be sure, some seniors are intellectually impaired (along with most 2-year-olds and some others of all ages), and they would also find PUP avoidance easier said than done. But alas, that’s not at all what you said.

    • Blatherbeard

      Search protect and Websearch were the bane of my exsistence at one time but on an up note, they taught me a lesson in malware and pup removal. ha!

      • Dan

        It’s often the best way to learn. Unfortunately! :-)

  • Richard Thayer

    Great advice. Thanks!

  • don m.

    I have used Filehippo for more than five years and i never have had a pup with any downloads yet.

    • JF

      Have to agree with you there. I would also like to know who is getting Dropbox bundled because I have never seen or heard of it being bundled with anything. Wondering if this article is a scam to get you to download something from a site that actually is a source of PUPs.

  • diwul62

    Thanks for this outstanding report!

  • Ryan Newson

    I personally use a tool called unchecky which un-ticks pup boxes for you, I highly recommend it.

  • cn

    Trust me on this , people who really think they are clean from pups are delusional , here’s the facts . There is only one on demand scanner that literally finds all pups , it is Eset online scanner with (pups detection enabled).

    As good as Emsisoft is and as good as Malwarebytes is , neither find anywhere close to the pups that Eset does.

    Want proof , run Eset’s online scanner and YOU MUST check the box for the pups detection, you will be shocked how many pups are on your computer without you even having a clue.

    I run Emsisoft, i also run numerous on demand scanners , the only other scanner that sometimes picks up pups is “Hitman Pro” but Eset blows them all away and finds them all (only if pups detection box is enabled though).

    Emsisoft is the best overall anti malware solution out there, no question.

    • Russ

      Some of us are simply more in control of our computers than you, I suppose. You make a lot of definite and sweeping statements without any real facts to support them. For the sake of argument, I ran ESET’s online scanner with PUPs selected, and unsurprisingly had no detections.

      Some additional programs that are good at removing PUPs are AdwCleaner and Junkware Removal Tool.

      • cn

        Actually you misunderstood my post Russ, do you see where i said that it was “myself” that had issues , no .

        I know this stuff because i repair computers and know what works and what doesn’t.

        By your response tone i can tell you did not run Eset’s scanner but your doing exactly what i expected people to do who took issue with my post.

        If your clean , good for you , nice job but the majority will not be , i know i see lots of messed up computers daily.

        I don’t like people messing with JRT and AdwCleaner , seen way too many F things up . They are excellent tools for the people who use them correctly though.

  • Mariska

    Thanks, I noticed more users like this program. My only potential concern with it is that PUP developers will find different ways than opt-out checkboxes to install PUPs as a “workaround” for programs like this.

    • You will always still the first line of defense. Your vigilance can be aided by tools like this but, if you simply always use the default and click on anything clickable, nothing will help.:)

  • Larry Gomez

    I have had the same from these sites. One has to really pay attention for fine print and other hidden accessories. I used Tucows years ago and was not aware that they had developed that reputation. I like Majorgeeks for their direct download option but even they report trouble in crapware that is difficult to maneuver.

    • Russ

      Agreed on Tucows! That was a surprise. I used to use Tucows in the late 90s back when it was a good, safe place to find useful utilities that I might not find elsewhere. It’s a bit disappointing to find out things have changed a lot, despite me not having used the place in nearly 15 years.

      Also agreed on MajorGeeks – as long as one is selective in what they choose to download, then there’s few problems to be had. The site does host a lot of what I’d class as crapware, so I wouldn’t suggest that people trust everything there.

  • Russ

    Definitely one to keep an eye on when it comes out of beta. I remember hearing about it last year, and wanting it to mature to a point where I could give it to family and friends (to save me trouble later).

    How do you find it on system resources? It runs light on my test PC, but the kind of people I know who’d need a program like this also tend to have a lot of programs running in the background – so I don’t want to add to their burden.

    • It’s light on system resources. Mem. usage 7,944K. Have never had a problem or conflict since installing about 7 month ago.

      • Cat Tilley

        Until I found Unchecky (beta) roughly about 3-4 months ago, my mother-in-law’s computer, which I do all of the work on monthly, was always getting loaded with PUP’s of all types. Just in a month, she’d rack up as many as 15-25.

        Since installing Unchecky, the number has fallen to zero. Yet I’ve told her & others that I’ve recommended it to, not to assume anything & still watch the process. If a piece of Malware were to get on the computer, that could stop Unchecky (& a lot of other processes) not to properly function.

        It wouldn’t surprise me to see, in the end, Unchecky becoming a paid for software (or subscription). They’ve had a paid support line since I’ve first seen the software, at the same time was thinking ‘who’s going to pay for support of beta/preview software’. So when those folks gets their app down to a science, expect them to get a nice return on their investment.

        Why wasn’t this little gem mentioned in ‘The Motley Fool’?

        Having a PC with 32GB RAM and an i7-4770, soon to be upgraded to ‘Devils Canyon’ (i7-4790K @ 4.0GHz), am not concerned over a tidbit of system resources, especially those that helps protect me.


  • survivor030406

    Download.com reviewed EEK 9 and rated “Excellent”

  • Throng

    Even at Sourceforge, ALWAYS take a close look at the user reviews before downloading.

    Another useful tip is to search out “portable” versions of an application. Meaning no installers. You just unzip the archive to a new directory and right-click -> drag the application’s exefile to place an icon / shortcut on your desktop.

    • Russ

      Portable apps are great, most of the programs I use on my computer are portable. I will install some of them just for the convenience of updates though..

      Another caveat is that not all will be completely portable though, and might have spawn ProgramData/Appdata folders or make registry entries. As long as my computers remain nimble, I can live with that.

      • Throng

        Valid points, but folders and reg entries are easier to deal with than installed crapware.

        I forgot to mention that “downloader managers” are never necessary. Any browser is perfectly capable of handling downloads all by itself. If a site insists on handing you a downloader, “smart” or otherwise, that’s warning enough. Avoid.

        • Russ

          Well I will say that DownThemAll! has saved me a lot of grief over the years :)

          • Cat Tilley

            Russ, Down Them All! is the best download manager I’ve ever used, free or paid, and even used it over the Akamai (MS’s download tool) as a former TechNet member. Out of the box, it’s a truly full-throttle download manager that will milk every last bit of speed that one’s ISP can provide & then some. Of course, this is adjustable.

            Also has an inbuilt file hash checker. However, even though I recommend it to everyone, many won’t bother because they either don’t want to mess with Firefox, or they can’t believe that ‘just because it’s free’, makes it no good. I tell them, if they don’t like Firefox, fine, just use it for the secure download manager, and to those who feels the ‘need to pay’ for quality, there’s a PayPal donate link. It’s one of only three Freeware software options I’ve ever donated to.

            When dealing with large files or ISO’s, download management isn’t an option, rather a necessity. Fortunately, there’s a 100% Free choice in Down Them All!, and no PUP’s for the ride. No one is required to make Firefox the default browser for this purpose.

    • Slade (Emsisoft)

      Great recommendation concerning “portable applications”. With that being
      said, you should still be careful choosing the download source and
      using the application itself. I personally have known quite a few
      portable apps that contain malware.

      • Throng

        How do they manage that? Apps written to act as malware?

        User reviews are the last fallback, I guess. If a site doesn’t have them, or they seem wonky, that’s fair warning also.

        • Slade (Emsisoft)

          Great advice, user reviews are a great resource. Viruses can be hidden within the zip file/folder whenever you unzip the portable app. Also, the actual application itself could have a malicious code injected into it and the portable app can also be a trojan in disguise. It is important to always be cautious when downloading, installing, and utilizing any software because malware has many attack vectors.

          • Eldon

            True. That’s why it’s important to always scan a file right after downloading it. The latest threat is CHM help files infected with CryptoWall.

      • Russ

        That’s certainly true of PortableFreeware(dot)com, one needs to be discerning there as there’s little if any review of items listed.

        As Eldon suggests, PortableApps.com is a safe source.

  • DownloadDude

    This article is flawed, as many similar ones are. The people writing this don’t seem to have a clear understanding how this whole download site and bundling process works. I run one of these download sites mentioned here and want to clear some thing up:
    There are two types of PUPs or bundles, or whatever you want to call them.
    Type 1. The software company (developer) of the product uses sponsor offers in their installer, often OpenCandy, BetterInstaller, AVG or similar. These are bundled with the product by the software company that creates the software – that’s how they monetize their product. This is the *vast* majority of bundle offers that you will encounter. The download sites have absolutely nothing to do with it, they just offer the original installer as provided by the software developer – they don’t make a dime on these sponsor offers.
    Type 2. The download site uses a custom “Downloader”, “Wrapper” or “Installer” that is usually a small 500kb or so file, which launches an installer interface that goes through several sponsor offers and THEN downloads the actual file that the software company provided. This approach is perfectly legal because the “installer” is really just an interface that shows you some sponsor offers and then downloads the actual file. It does not modify or change the original file, it simply acts as a middleman. With this approach, a “Clean” software can end up being “bundled” by the download site.

    This type of bundle (#2) is the only one that you can blame download sites for. It is what download.com, softonic, soft32, Tucows and some other are using. They are wrapping the original file with their sponsor offers. If the site offers a “secure installer” sponsored installer” or anything like that in addition to the original file download, then they are the ones responsible for your PUP offers.

    The vast majority of the PUPs you encounter, no matter where you download from comes directly from the software developers.
    Your post is encouraging people to download directly from the software company in order to avoid PUPs, which is not true.
    Avast Free Antivirus, AVG Free Antivirus, CCleaner, Freemake Video Converter, uTorrent, Skype …. and many other listed above are bundled directly by the software company – you will get the same sponsor offers (PUP) if you download directly from their site.

    In fact, on the site I am running, 100% of the PUPs come directly from the software company – we link directly to their file, it’s the same as going to their site and downloading from there. We don’t have anything to do with it nor do we make a dime on it.

    To make this article more accurate, you should compare how many PUPs you get if you download from a specific download site versus the PUPs you get when you download directly from the software company. If you did that, you’ll find that your post is very misleading.

    Almost all of the top downloads above would result in some sort of sponsor offers for PUPs, even if downloaded directly from the software company website.
    With those sites that use a wrapper, you may actually end up with a double whammy: First you get the sponsor offers from the download site’s wrapper, then you get the sponsor offers that are bundled with the original installer (as provided by the developer).

    • Throng

      How, exactly, does any of the above make anything any better? A computer still ends up loaded with sh*t. All you’re doing is highlighting the ways and means by which “free” software has gone sour…

      • DownloadDude

        I am not trying to “make anything better”, I am merely pointing out that the article does not properly identify the cause of the PUP problem.

        • Throng

          So you did. If crapware is now an economic necessity for download sites, then they’ll last only as long as the supply of naive users holds out. Even if download sites aren’t entirely responsible, they will be held responsible. Distinctions without differences (to the downloader) make no impression. Nobody cares.

        • Cat Tilley

          Maybe not 100%, but well over 95% of the cause. Some of the rest can come from other causes, like letting others use their computers, on their main accounts at that? Inserting Flash & optical drives not knowing what on those (or the owner not knowing it’s done behind their backs). Visiting sites such as Yahoo Mail & clicking onto ads that promises things ‘too good to be true’. Evidently the ‘Free Laptop’ scam never fully played out.

          And the cure as well. Watching out where one gets their downloads, take Emsisoft Anti Malware, for example. Some of those very same sites hosts the download, File Hippo (a site I once held in high regard) even still carries the older, Free version of A-Squared & other sites still hosts the Free Online Armor downloads. Yet I’m sure something comes with those, and of course I don’t believe Online Armor is free anymore, it’s also likely that A-Squared, if it works, will be updated to EEK or Emsisoft Anti Malware.

          At any rate, one can get EEK, EAM or OA direct from the site with no PUP’s attached. Not sure about ‘A-Squared’, it’s been like 8-9 years back since I’ve used it.

          Finally, if you’re going to let others use your computer, create a separate account with limited privileges, then set the restrictions so tight that they’ll not want to ask again. It works!

          Or if they say ‘it’s important’, give then that XP computer that was last used 2 years ago, and see how important it really is.


    • Mariska

      You make a valid point that it’s not clearly stated in this article which PUPs came from the vendor and which ones from portal wrappers. However, i disagree that download portals have no responsibility for the vendor PUPs, especially since most portals claim to have clean and safe downloads. What counts is the result for the users. not “who is responsible for the pups”. If a portal pushes someone to download their top 10 stuff which is full of pups, they are implicitly supporting PUPs. A good portal would flag or warn the user that a download contains bundles, no matter where they come from. I think it’s great that you’re staying away from installers and only have direct links, it’s in your best interest then as well to offer something different than the shady portals and educate users on true clean downloads.

      • DownloadDude

        The Top 10, Top 20 etc. downloads are usually based on what the users are downloading. These programs are listed in the Top Downloads because they are downloaded a lot, not the other way around.
        Most anti-virus will not flag legitimate PUP bundles (OpenCandy for example), so according to the anti-virus industry, these file are considered “clean”.
        Believe it or not, these bundled programs are among the most popular “free” software products that people are downloading. Adobe, Java, AVG… they’re all doing it, even CCleaner, one of the most popular downloads comes with a bundle offer.
        If a download site decided to exclude all these files they would not be able to compete with other sites.
        A download site can put up a notice, making the user aware of the fact that the download includes additional offers, but completely excluding them is not really a viable option for most sites.

        • Mariska

          As a site owner you are in control over what’s on your site. At the moment i’m not seeing any notices or warnings on download portals about what PUPs come with a program. If you’re trying to be a clean download portal, I’d see this as an opportunity and your chance to stand out. Educate your visitors, make it very clear what’s installed with each program, go strong against PUPs. This will only be in your benefit and also help clear up the confusion between the different types of PUPs.

          You as a download portal label certain apps that come with PUPs as clean, while you’re well aware that they are not. But because SOME other antivirus companies, from which some may have a double interest because they install PUPs themselves as you pointed out as well, don’t flag them (yet) you’re OK with that? You have a responsibility there to educate your visitors and moreover an opportunity to do things differently.

          • Eldon

            Thank you Mariska. If DownloadDude visits MajorGeeks he will see exactly what you have said. Every program that comes bundled with any PUP/toolbar carries a warning – in red.
            I’m posting a link to this report so that more users can learn which sites to avoid.

          • Mariska

            That’s great, I’m glad to hear MajorGeeks is taking that approach. I’m sure it will gain respect from your visitors and help you in the long run. Thanks for sharing!

          • Randy Flatts

            I don’t understand why snapfiles makes this list. They have always marked adware as far as I can remember. If you download a bundled program from there, they have a note below the description, right above the download button, and they have another note with a red exclamation mark on their download page – it’s really difficult not to notice.
            I have contacted them several times over the years and they have always responded and either removed a listing that used tricky installers or flagged one that they missed.
            From my perspective, they are one of the most legitimate download sites out there.

    • T Sweny

      You (the dnload sites) are not without fault. You guys actually ‘Hide’ the clean dnload button and put a Big Green one there for the poor fellow that doesn’t know better. I have seen some links for what is valid software that is booby trapped with 30 or 40 porn sites and these junk programs on top of all that.
      I had to go into a friends registry on windows 7 to remove this junk. He thought he had destroyed his computer! The guy is 70 years old…. and porn isn’t his thing. He said the original link he clicked on was at download.com

      • DownloadDude

        Yes, those sites that promote their bundled installer link over the “clean” link definitely are at fault, especially if the file would otherwise not included any bundled offers.
        No question about that.

        However, you can’t just group all download sites as “You, the download sites”. The download sites listed are run by completely different companies with different ethics. Only a few of them use the “big green download button” approach.
        That is exactly where this article falls short, it does not clarify if those PUPs originate from a wrapper that was added by the download site or if they were included with the original installer from the software company. It simply puts the blame on the download sites without investigating if they are truly at fault.

        To do this properly, one would have to pick 10 of the most popular downloads that are offered by all those sites above and then find out whether they offered the original file from the developer or a “wrapped” version. Only then can you point a finger.

        Without this information, the notion that download sites are at fault is merely an assumption without any facts to back it up.

        Oh, and I veto the notion that “porn is not your thing” once you turn 70 (and I hope I’m right on that) :-)

    • Cat Tilley

      You run a server linking consumers to all of these sites & yet you state ‘nor do we make a dime on it’. I’ve heard that from many in the retail business, from furniture sales to those who sells used cars. Many will say the same exact thing, not a dime is made on used car sales, yet if one goes to the same auto lot to purchase a new one, they’ll say the same about new cars, ‘there’s no markup on new cars, as you see on the sticker’. ‘Our money is made on used cars’, ha, their ‘money’ is made on everything that comes & goes from their lots/stores.

      I was in sales for 13 years, and I’ll be honest, I made a small fortune. There is nothing to be made in giving away anything, including links to downloads loaded with PUP’s, if what you’re saying is true, you’ve lost a boatload of cash in lost opportunity alone.

      What’s the point of being in business if no money is made?


      • DownloadDude

        I think you misunderstood me. I didn’t say that download sites don’t
        make any money. Download Portals, like the vast majority of websites,
        make money from advertising that is displayed on the site.

        sites extend their revenue model by using wrappers (Download Mangers)
        that offer promotional products (PUPs) and then download the actual

        This business model has the advantage of generating
        quite a bit of extra revenue but it comes at the cost of alienating
        users. Typically, download sites that receive the vast majority of their
        traffic from search engines, don’t really care because these are all
        fly-by users that probably don’t even remember the name of the site
        where they downloaded from.

        Now, as to the free products like
        uTorrent, Ccleaner, Freemake Video Converter etc. (just to name a few) –
        their business model is to generate revenue from the promotional offers
        in the installer. That is how they recoup the cost of development,
        bandwidth etc. You will get those PUP offers no matter where you
        download the software from, be it the developer’s site, a download site
        or a Google search.

  • If you really want to do something about this problem you should BUY software.

    The reason this problem exists is because people are cheap and want everything for free. People seem to think that software isn’t worth anything, and companies should just make free software for them. It’s really hard to have sympathy for people who demand things for free, then get upset when they have to deal with the advertising that supports it.

    It costs a lot of time and money to create a great application that solves a real problem. Software developers spend months or years making great software, but customers seem to think they should get it for free. This has driven the creators to turn to other methods to monetize their work, because no one seems to value what they’ve done.

    So if you really want to help out, next time you’re looking for software, get the PAID version.

    • DownloadDude

      Well spoken. I remember, many years go, when I first started with a download site, people where thrilled to see free software. Many casual Internet users didn’t even know that free software exists, they would buy all their software at Office Depot or similar places….
      The tides have changed and now people are “What, you have to pay for software….?”
      Not a good time for shareware developers. Many of them are simply forced to change their revenue model to sponsored installers because their competitors are doing it…

      Unfortunately, the (monetary) success of these installers has spawned a whole new breed of software – trivial, low quality products that are purely designed to attract interest and get people to install the software. Once the software is installed, the developer has made his money (or not). These product often use some of the more shady installers like Somoto which can be very tricky and have a high rate of accidental installs.
      More legit installers like OpenCandy for example adhere to certain standards that prohibit these types of exploits. In addition, they also have certain quality standards and often require a minimum number of downloads per month. You still have to pay attention during the installation, of course, and if you just click Next, Next and OK, you will end up with something extra.

    • 78Cooper

      Free free free! I want all my software for free because I get all my apps for free on my iphone “computer”. I bet at least half the people that get so upset about paying for software in one way or another don’t have the slightest clue about what it takes to create the software.
      Hey, if you think a certain software should be completely free – why don’t you go ahead and just make it yourself…. it will save you time whining about it.
      Do you ever complain why you don’t get refrigerators for free or why the a/c guy doesn’t repair your air conditioner for free? What about free car washes and tire replacements…? Free movies, free Netflix (how dare they charge you $9 a month).
      I’m sure all of you guys work mostly for free too because all you do is show up in the morning, sit on your desk, do some stuff, there’s really no value in it, right? How could you expect your employer to pay for something like that?
      Don’t you people realize that there is no such thing as a “free lunch”? The only time you really get something for free is when you show up late for a yard sale and the people are giving away the stuff they couldn’t sell – everything else, there’s always strings attached.
      Wipe the fairy dust off your eyes and realize that software companies employ people, just like you (only smarter), and that they want to get paid at the end of the month too, just like you….

  • Lyle Schroeder

    I had to really wince when I saw the example you chose to show for Software Informer. This is off subject, but the Direct Link option is for NCH Software, which isn’t a better option. To get understand why I say this, look them up in Wikipedia. I would rather download 100 PUPs before I download one program from those people.

    • Slade (Emsisoft)

      What was your discovery concerning NCH Software?

      • Lyle Schroeder

        The reason that I suggested looking them up in Wikipedia, is because other people’s experience with NCH was far worse then mine. It has been a few years since this happened, so I might not remember every problem, but the ones that stick out in my mind are how at times I would try to open a file of some sort, usually an audio/video type for which I had some program already installed to handle it, I would get the Open With Menu, but at the top, I was “informed” that I did not have a program for that particular extension. Mind you I suckered for that a couple of times, because it was an extension that I rarely used, and probably hadn’t picked a program to handle it. It gave some sort of message that would induce you to click on it, and it proved to be a shortcut for NCH Software’s website. When I finally wised up, I then uninstalled all things NCH. This was not entirely successful. I still had that message on the top of the menu, not to mention NCH files all over the place. After downloading some cleanup software for no other reason than to get rid of their garbage, I was able to get rid of the menu problem, but believe it or not, I would still find something NCH related in some file folder. The sad thing is, they seem to write decent programs and you have to wonder why they would resort to such tactics.

    • Eldon

      Wikipedia doesn’t say anything negative about NCH Software. Installing any program from NCH Software offers the user other programs from the publisher. It’s easy to opt out.

  • Throng

    Translation: “But everyone else is doing it!” That’s as good as it ever was.

  • BruceTechGuy

    Thanks for the article. And thanks all for your comments.
    A lot of good additional info and tips.
    (Along with the occasional sweeping ‘absolute’ generalities… oh well ;)
    Good tip on Unchecky.
    A couple other tips –
    – Always be sure to READ ALL installer options carefully
    – Watch out for negative wording in some installers
    – look into the so-called “Advance” or “Custom” install screen to see if there is a option to NOT install the adware junk
    – Consider to install the tool WinPatrol. (I have no affiliation with them.) I’ve been using it for years, and while it does not necessarily prevent the installation of junk-ware, it does monitor the state of your system to alert you to undesirable changes (startup programs, etc) and give you the option to prohibit such changes. There is a fully free version as well as pro which pays to support their service.
    – I’ve had good results with Adwcleaner (for cleaning after the fact infestations), but trouble with JunkwareRemovalTool which has been extremely aggressive with its ‘cleaning’. Just be careful with those.
    – Last (I think) it is a valid point that some installers directly from the author-vendors already come with ad-ware bundles. In such cases it is worth looking at the author-vendor download page to see if they provide a no-ad version to download.

  • Article is sort of hit or miss. Surprised MajorGeeks was not looked through in this list. That said, if you want to write this in a more interesting way look into which of these sites add a wrapper to their top downloads and write about that. This means you have to avoid PUP’s before you even install the program you want.
    Downloading from the Author site gets you the same file unless these sites added their own wrapper. The #1 tip I can give people is to not click, click, click. Slow down and read looking for PUP’s to be added when you can opt out of 99% of these.

    • Eldon

      Scroll down and look at what Mariska (Mod) has to say. Especially her comment about MajorGeeks.