Google and Paint.NET need to stop misleading users
Paint.NET is an excellent, free, easy-to-use image editing program for Microsoft Windows. I have frequently recommended it to Windows users who needed an inexpensive, lightweight graphics tool.
But this post isn’t about Paint.NET, really. It’s about the Paint.NET web site. Which is a horror show.
The problem is this: the Paint.NET web site runs ads from Google’s ad network. And those ads are designed in such a way as to lead naïve users to believe clicking the ad will download Paint.NET, when in actuality it causes some other, completely unrelated software to be downloaded. And then the user, thinking they are installing Paint.NET, double-clicks the downloaded installer and gets that completely unrelated software onto their machine.
This is unethical any way you slice it. Even if the unrelated software is completely innocuous, it’s still being distributed to users under false pretenses. And worse, it’s possible that the software is not innocuous; that it’s spyware, or malware, or some other nasty thing.
Let me show you what I mean. Imagine that you were telling me you needed an image editor, and I, helpful geek that I am, told you to go to www.getpaint.net to download Paint.NET.
Here is what I saw when I went there today:
At first glance, where would you think you should click to download the Paint.NET software?
The answer is the link in the middle right, under “Get it now (free download)”. But that link is visually swamped by the two huge ad units below it, each of which features a giant blue button labeled “DOWNLOAD”. We know that people don’t read online, so a text link is always going to be “seen” by the user after they’ve noticed the graphical elements.
Now assume that you have somehow managed to find the correct link to click, and clicked it. What happens after the click? You see this:
Again with the giant blue “Download” button! And this time it’s even higher up on the page than the real download button, which makes it even more likely that non-technical users will be tricked into clicking it.
Sometimes the ads are even worse than the ones shown above. Like this one:
Notice how it puts the word “RECOMMENDED” in big red letters at the top, to imply that their software is recommended by the authors of Paint.NET, which (as far as I can tell) it absolutely is not.
So if you get tricked into downloading something from one of these misleading ads, what kind of software are you getting? I followed one ad and found myself at the Web site for something called “Zipper.” Zipper appears to be software for decompressing archive files, such as ZIP files. But if you scroll down to the bottom of the page and peek at the fine print, you see the real payload:
This installation is distributed with the SweetIM Toolbar. You can decline to install it. Free emoticons & search for your browser, search aid when misspelling or incorrectly formatting browser address request and SweetIM search Home Page…
This installation is distributed with the Claro Toolbar. You can decline to install it. Search the web, free online games, shopping offer and discounts and much more…
This installation is distributed with the Incredibar Toolbar. You can decline to install it. With the Incredibar Toolbar you’ll be able to access your favourite videos in just a click…
This installation is distributed with the Funmoods Toolbar. You can decline to install it. Funmoods is a free toolbar add-on for social networks chat that gives you a huge collection of smileys, winks, text effects and more…
This installation is distributed with the Babylon Toolbar. You can decline to install it. Make the web your home without boundaries and language barriers. Get quick translation and definitions directly from your browser with the Babylon toolbar…
Zippernew use DomaIQ an install manager that will manage the installation of your selected software. In addition to managing the installation of your selected software, DomaIQ will make recommendations for additional free software that you may be interested in. Additional software may include toolbars, browser add-ons, game applications, anti-virus applications, and other types of applications.
In other words, if you choose to install this software, and you click through the default settings in the installer, you’ll end up with not just the Zipper software itself but five useless browser toolbars and an “install manager” that will nag you periodically to download even more crap. None of which has the slightest thing to do with Paint.NET, the software you originally set out to download in the first place.
Given the debased state of our nation’s laws, I’m sure this is all perfectly legal. But it stinks. It stinks to high heaven. The malware authors get a vector to get their crap onto peoples’ PCs; Google gets paid by the malware authors for letting them do so; Paint.NET gets paid by Google every time someone gets fooled and clicks the ads. Everybody “wins” — everybody except the end user.
So my questions are:
- These ads are being placed on the Paint.NET site via Google’s AdSense network. Google’s content policies for AdSense state that “publishers may not ask others to click their ads or use deceptive implementation methods to obtain clicks.” How does this type of ad, which attempts to trick users who want to download one product into downloading another, not fall under the rubric of “deceptive implementation methods”?
- These ads are being displayed on the Paint.NET website. How much influence does the Paint.NET team have over the content of the ads that are displayed there? Could they stop these misleading ads from running on their site if they wished to?
- What financial compensation does the Paint.NET team receive from clicks generated by these ads? Is there a financial incentive being created here for them to allow potential users to be fooled or misled by these ads?
There is no good excuse for these ads to be appearing on the Paint.NET site. None. They don’t help users get what they came for; they don’t even help them get something related to what they came for. They “help” them get completely unrelated software that lards their computer down with obtrusive, malicious, unwanted software. And they do that by trading on Paint.NET’s good reputation, which they have absolutely zero claim to.
It’s unacceptable, and someone should put a stop to it — either the Paint.NET team, or Google. Or, if neither of those parties will act, the Federal Trade Commission, whose complaint line can be found here.