Downloading free PC software online is kind of like playing Russian roulette. You never know which next click is going to destroy your PC.
In Forrest Gump’s world, it might also be like opening a box of chocolates.
But one recent change by Google has made downloading free PC software online surprisingly easy and safe. It’s arguably the biggest change in the PC online download market in years.
Basically, Google eliminated “crapware” results from its search engines. One of the best examples of this is with VLC Player.
Prior to Google’s recent update, searching for the popular media player VLC showed that the top three search results had absolutely nothing to do with VLC. Instead, people had paid for those advertising spots to display crapware and adware.
Open-Source Software with Bundled Ads
Technically speaking, in VLC’s case, the software in question wasn’t malware. Instead, it was simply open-source software bundled with advertisements. VLC is open source software (if the developers charged for VLC, they would instantly be sued for using all those media codecs for free).
Scammy developers took that open-source software and injected their own ads, leaving the rest of the software intact. This tricks users into thinking they’re downloading the legitimate version of VLC.
In reality, they’re funneling advertising money to low-quality developers. The French developers who actually worked hard to make VLC, on the other hand, are left with nothing.
Google Now Displays a Onebox Result
Google has been smarter and smarter about displaying Onebox results. When you ask it a common question, it will pull a Onebox answer from a trusted source on its search engine results page.
Website owners are mad because they don’t get the traffic, ad views, or any benefits. But Google simply claims its connecting search engine users to the information they need as quickly as possible.
In any case, Google now displays a Onebox when you try to download certain popular software programs – including VLC Media Player.
You can see how this system works in action here.
When you search for keywords like “VLC Download”, you’ll see a Onebox pop up which features the official website name, official software name, the name of the developers, an official logo, and a “Go to download” link.
It’s as official as you could ever want it to be.
Google released a blog post on the matter addressing user complaints. Google claims that the scammy software was removed from search engine rankings for all of the following reasons:
“We’ve found that most unwanted software displays one or more of the same basic characteristics:
-It is deceptive, promising a value proposition that it does not meet.
-It tries to trick users into installing it or it piggybacks on the installation of another program.
-It doesn’t tell the user about all of its principal and significant functions.
-It affects the user’s system in unexpected ways.
-It is difficult to remove.
-It collects or transmits private information without the user’s knowledge.
-It is bundled with other software and its presence is not disclosed.”
Google Also Blocks Downloads and Issues Warnings
Google’s new system makes PC downloads safer in more ways than one. Some other changes include:
-Chrome will now block malware downloads. If you try to download a known threat, Chrome won’t let you.
-Chrome will warn you that the site ahead could contain harmful programs. If you visit a website that knowingly hosts malware, Chrome could block you and force you to press the “Back to safety” button.
Google Conveniently Forgets to Mention it Was Making Millions in Advertising Money from Past System
It’s nice of Google to step up and prevent its users from being scammed. But many people are forgetting that Google happily made millions under the previous system.
Those search results at the top of the page when you searched for VLC Download? People had to pay Google for each click. And for often-searched terms like VLC Download, those clicks were rarely cheap.
Google approved those advertisements even when it saw users were being redirected towards adware. Let’s not forget that.
Let’s also not forget that Google’s reasons listed above are the results of a sudden investigation: Google has known about this for a while. The whole “We’ve found…” angle? I’m not buying it.
For what it’s worth, Yahoo does the exact same thing as Google and displays the same type of advertisements on its search engine results page. Bing, however, takes a middle-ground approach: it displays an official VLC Media Player logo in the top right corner of the screen with a link to the official site, but there are also adware-filled download links on the search engine results page.
In any case, the world of PC downloads is much safer today than it was yesterday. Thanks Google.