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The price of free software?

July 18, 2017
by Amanda Koulousias
Attorney, Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, FTC

Has your computer been acting strange lately? Maybe your default search engine or other browser settings changed, or you’re getting suspicious warnings about your computer’s performance. Are you are seeing ads that don’t seem to belong – like ones that cover up parts of the webpage or are on a site that doesn’t usually show ads? If so, you may have unwanted software on your computer. Your next step: get rid of any malware.

But how does unwanted software get on your computer in the first place? If you installed some free software, you may have accidentally downloaded it at the same time. Extra software – and sometimes malware – can get bundled together with popular free software downloads, and you might not realize what you’re getting. To avoid this problem:

  • Be on the lookout when installing free software. Read each screen during the installation process. Choose the “custom” install option instead of the “express” option. Then, if you see software you don’t want in the bundle, decline the additional program or just exit the installation process.

Install and protect your computer navigation between Express and custom displays

  • If you want a particular download, go straight to that company’s site – or another source you trust. Sites that offer lots of popular software – for free – are more likely to bundle it with extra software.
  • Talk to your kids. If you let your kids download software, help them recognize reputable sources.
  • Don’t click on popups or banner ads. Clicking on popups or banner ads about your computer’s performance might start a download of unwanted software.
  • Keep your security software up to date. Up-to-date security software can catch malicious software and protect your computer.

For more on this and other Federal Trade Commission Articles Please visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/privacy-identity-online-security