“Users of today’s PCs live on a precipice. One false click and the adware and malware invades,” I remarked in a recent comment on Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 launch.
The remark was prompted by a recent call from a friend. His PC was playing up. He was getting all sort of security warnings and being prompted to download more and more apps supposedly to fix problems. It all started, he said, when he went to Google to install iTunes.
After the clean-up, I wondered what had happened. I went to Google and typed in iTunes.
The top hit is Apple, which perhaps to prevent this kind of problem has actually paid for an ad on its own brand name. However my friend, understandably, went for the link that said iTunes Free Download (actually I am not sure if this was the exact link he clicked, but it was one like it).
Note how the ads are distinguished from the organic hits only by a small yellow indicator.
Microsoft’s Bing, incidentally, is even worse; I presume because Apple has not paid for an ad:
Using a secure virtual machine, I investigated what happens if you click one of these links (I advise you NOT to try this on your normal PC). I clicked the Google one, which took me to SOFTNOW.
I hit the big Download button.
It is downloading a setup from drive-files-b.com which claims to be iTunes, but it is not, as we will see.
The file passes Microsoft’s security scan and runs. The setup is signed by Perion Network Ltd.
Now here comes iTunes – or does it?
I clicked to see the Terms of Service. These are from Perion, not Apple, and explain that I am going to get an alternative search service for my browser plus other utilities, on an opt-out basis.
However I doubt my friend clicked to see these. Probably he hit Next.
Apparently I have “elected to download Search Protect”. There are more terms to agree. The Skip and Skip All buttons are in grey; in fact, the Skip button looks disabled though perhaps it is not.
Now here comes a thing called Wajam which is going to recommend stuff to me.
I am going to get “display ads (banner ads), text ads, in-text ads, interstitial ads, pop up ads, pop under ads, or other types of ads. Users may see additional ads when using their internet browser or other software”.
Now “iTunes” seems to be downloading.
Once it downloads, I get an Install Now button. Apparently all those Next buttons I clicked did not install iTunes after all.
This last button, of course, downloads the real setup from Apple and runs it. Unfortunately it is the wrong version.
Who is to blame for all this? Well, the warning signs may be obvious to those of us in the trade, but frankly it is not that unreasonable to go to your trusted search engine, type in iTunes, and click the download link.
The blame is with Google (and Bing) for taking money from these advertisers whose aim is to get to you download their intrusive ad-laden extras.
Apple iTunes is free software and you can get it from Apple here.
Note that Google is experimenting with removing the address bar altogether, so you can only navigate the web by searching Google (which is what people do anyway). This would make users even more dependent on the search providers to do the right thing, which as you can see from the above, is not something you can count on.