The popular Digsby instant messenger client not only bundles half a dozen “optional” crapware applications, it’s also using your computer to crawl the web, do stock market research, and more. It’s time to uninstall.
Bundling Crapware is a Despicable Business Model
Many popular freeware applications bundle crapware into their setup files, prompting you during the installation process to install something that nobody wants—like the Yahoo/Ask.com/SomeRandomCompany browser toolbar. Tech-savvy users may consider this nothing more than an annoyance, but this practice preys on unsuspecting or less knowledgeable users that click “Next” through every setup screen, and the makers of any software that do this should be ashamed of themselves.
Digsby takes bundled crapware to a whole different level, however. During the install you are prompted for not one, not two, but six different pieces of junk software, and then for good measure they offer to replace your home page with something terrible and take your search engine down a notch.
Don’t think it’s all that bad? Here’s an example of one of the bundled crapware applications—a piece of software that tracks everything you are searching online and shows you “offers” in a sidebar window. Does that really sound like something anybody anywhere would ever want?
It Gets Even Worse: Your PC is Being Used Without Your Knowledge
You can debate the merits of bundled crapware, and brush away the despicable nature of preying on those lacking adequate tech skills, but did you realize that Digsby is also using your processor to make money?
That’s right. Buried in the Terms of Service that almost nobody ever bothers reading, there’s this exploiting-the-fine-print gem explaining that they will use your CPU to run distributed computing problems that make them money:
15. USAGE OF COMPUTER RESOURCES.
You agree to permit the Software to use the processing power of your computer when it is idle to run downloaded algorithms (mathematical equations) and code within a process. You understand that when the Software uses your computer, it likewise uses your CPU, bandwidth, and electrical power. The Software will use your computer to solve distributed computing problems, such as but not limited to, accelerating medical research projects, analyzing the stock market, searching the web, and finding the largest known prime number. This functionality is completely optional and you may disable it at any time.
Hold everything! They are going to use my computer for “searching the web” without explicitly asking for my permission? What exactly are they indexing, and how do I know they aren’t accessing something illegal with my computer? Why are they trying to hide this in the first place?
To be fair, they do give you a way to disable this absurd nonsense—though they bury the setting behind a “Support Digsby” item on the menu, with no clear description on exactly what they are doing with it. It’s clear they are abusing their users, but since they technically explain it in the TOS and let you disable the feature, they weasel out of any responsibility.
Think it’s just paranoia? This has been reported, on the Digsby forum, more than a few times, and in fact was announced on the Digsby blog as an official way they are going to make some money, with Plura Processing as a partner. The Plura Processing blog confirms that they are, in fact, crawling the web using your computer:
Custom Web Crawling – 80legs is using Plura to do distributed web crawling. Rather than having data centers with very fat pipes, they use a portion of the bandwidth of the Plura nodes to crawl the web. In order to improve the success ratio for each work unit, 80legs sends out Plura WUs with very few URLs to crawl.
This isn’t just some language buried in the TOS. It’s a sneaky way they are planning on making money from people without explicitly asking them first. If you really want to be paranoid, consider that these people have the credentials to all your online accounts.
Just Need to Pay the Bills? Give Me a Break!
While there’s no way to tell exactly how much money Digsby is making from the sneaky use of your computer and abusing the less knowledgeable with loads of crapware, there is one disturbing fact that you should consider: They are paying up to $1 for every new user that you refer to them through their affiliate program. If they can pay that much money for every new user, they aren’t just paying the bills anymore.
What do I get paid for?
You get paid for every new user that installs Digsby.
How much do I get paid?
You get paid up to $1.00 for every new user that installs Digsby. The amount varies depending on the geographic location of the person installing Digsby.
The Guise of Ad-Free Doesn’t Get You Off the Hook
Digsby and other subtle-but-shady software makers excuse themselves from their crapware-bundling behavior by saying that this model enables them to provide the product free of charge, and free of ads.
Except in this case, that argument is completely bogus. Digsby sends out “Announcements” containing ads or, in at least one case, requests for you to vote in a poll of the five best instant messenger clients. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to switch off this behavior, and while they might not be abusing it too badly right now, if they are willing to try and sneakily use your computer, you can bet it’s not going to stop.
Summary: Stick with Open Source
The only way you are definitely going to avoid greedy software developers exploiting you is to stick with open source, make sure to donate to your favorite open source projects, and stop installing software with bundled crapware.
It’s time to end the reign of bundled crapware. Uninstall Digsby.
Update: Disgsby responds, saying they’re pushing out a new build today with more transparency about the research module.
Be Careful Not To Install Junk Software with Digsby [How-To Geek]