This morning one of my PCs had a little pop-up balloon asking for permission to download an update. This is the computer that my wife normally uses and I rarely use it except to check it for updates. The program that wanted to update was Sun’s Java runtime. I figured this was probably a good idea so I told it to go ahead.
Where’s the evil? The update wizard tried to sneak in an installation of the Google Toolbar. If you accept the default options, and just click “Next” through the wizard, you get the Google toolbar installed along with the Java runtime update. The Google toolbar has absolutely nothing to do with keeping my Java runtime up to date, but for some reason, they try to sneak it in. I dislike bundling in general, but I really dislike it when the default behavior of programs is to bundle. I didn’t like it when the MSN Messenger defaulted to change my homepage and search settings, and I especially don’t like it when software “updates” are used to sneak software onto my machine.
Thankfully (I guess…) my wife never updates her machine. She’s totally immune to Windows Update pop-ups, or even the Onecare beta’s yellow or even red icons. I say thankfully because if she had run the update, I’m almost certain that she would’ve next-clicked her way through the defaults, and then she would have been complaining that her IE window was getting cluttered by the toolbar.
Companies need to remember that for most folks, Sneaky == Evil. Every time you gain a user through sneaky bundling, you lose some consumer trust. Google is in a tight spot because a great deal of their business value, their market value even, is based on users trusting them with personal information. Without a high level of consumer trust, Google is just another advertising platform serving up irrelevant ads.
How could this be better? If you must bundle unrelated software, require explicit and obvious consent. A pre-checked box in the middle of an update wizard is not explicit and obvious. Better yet, toss out the bundling, and win customers based on the merits of your product.