uTorrent, Oracle called out for unwanted software installs

In the wake of Lenovo's Superfish controversy, it seems the computing public is getting tired of software vendors' sneaky practices.

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It seems Lenovo's Superfish was the proverbial straw that broke the public's back, because people are starting to really call out software vendors that pull similar moves. In recent days, BitTorrent and Oracle, an unlikely pair if ever there was one, have been taken to task for similar shenanigans.

BitTorrent's uTorrent software is the most popular and widely used torrent software, but it's also been criticized for getting bloated and filled with ads you can't remove for some time. Regular torrent users openly advocate shunning the newer versions of uTorrent in favor of the 2.2.1 release from 2010 because it doesn't have the ads and useless new features.

The latest offense from BitTorrent is even more egregious because it installs a Litecoin miner along with the torrent software. Litecoin is an alternative to Bitcoin. It's not like uTorrent hides it; you are prompted to approve its installation. uTorrent is telling other media outlets that the software it bundles is opt-in, but we know human nature, and people all too often just click Next, Next, Next until they get to Finish without looking closely at what they agreed to.

Coin miners for Bitcoin and Litecoin use a lot of CPU cycles, so that will run up power and heat, which adds to the annoyance of installing unwanted software in the first place. And the user never gains from the coin mining, Litecoin does. Needless to say, BitTorrent is getting a lot of heat on its message board.

And then there's Oracle. Stories are popping up now about Oracle's bundling of the Ask toolbar with Java and changing your default search engine to Ask.com. Like with uTorrent, you can avoid the installation if you pay attention during the install. If you just keep clicking Next until it's done, it will be installed.

This sudden anger at Oracle is a bit specious because Oracle has been doing this for years. Why are people griping now? Because the Mac version of Java is finally including Ask. For years, only the PC version got the Ask toolbar and search engine switch. I guess Oracle had to target the single-digit market share world of the Mac to make people mad.

Why Oracle even bothers may seem like a bit of a mystery, because Ask has just 2.4% market share in search. Not surprising, as Ask search results are fairly worthless, inaccurate, and often full of ads that are not differentiated from genuine search results.

So why would Oracle partner with such a loser? Because there's some money to be had, and Larry will never turn down a good deal. Ask is owned by IAC, a huge company that includes Match.com, Tinder, OKCupid, The Daily Beast, Vimeo, Dictionary.com, and HomeAdvisor, among others, and it pays a commission to Oracle to bundle the Ask toolbar. With each Java download, Oracle makes a few bucks, and considering Java's ubiquity, that can add up.

And as ZDNet's Ed Bott points out, IAC's Search & Applications division, which includes Ask, reported that in its 2014 fiscal year it paid $883 million, primarily in traffic acquisition costs, to partners that distributed its customized browser-based applications, i.e. the toolbar. Google was the biggest beneficiary, but Oracle was up there.

BitTorrent really has no excuse for slipping in an application that uses a user's PC for work and profit, even if the company donates the Litecoin funds to charity. The messages on their user board and elsewhere indicate a huge loss of trust, and that will be hard to regain. As it is, BitTorrent seems tone deaf to the fact that its users are refusing to upgrade from a five-year-old version of its software, so I wonder if they will listen to this.

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