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The download you want may be surrounded by often misleading offers of ... more downloads. It's incredibly important to know which one you really want.

A note about c|net Download.com: Recently, any download now puts a c|net download manger and that program downloads your file (and a toolbar). Hidden slightly is the direct download, but most people will not find it or even notice it.

I'm not seeing a download manager, but your comment raises a very common and troubling practice: extremely misleading advertising.

And confusingly hidden download links.

It's a serious problem that at best confuses people and at worst causes them to download and install junk.

Junk that they didn't want in the first place.

Misleading Advertising

Here's a screen shot of c|net Download.com's page for a popular anti-virus program:

c|net Download.com download page

Notice how many different places say "Download" - "Download Now", "Start Download", "Free Download" ... even "Buy Now".

Do you know which one is the one (and the only one) to get the download that this page is about?

c|net Download.com download page - highlighting the real download link

Every other clickable instance of the word "download" on that page is an advertisement for something else.

Here's the kicker - c|net and Download.com are actually reputable sites and relatively tame when it comes to this type of practice.

Download links that don't say download

I'm a big fan of the CD/DVD burning tool ImgBurn. However their download page could use some work:

ImgBurn Download Page

Can you locate the actual links to download ImgBurn on this page? Yes, there are more then one. One hint - they don't say download:

ImgBurn Download Page - links highlighted

The links are there in the center, labeled "mirror," because the download is hosted on several different sites, each of which hosts a copy or mirror of the download file.

All of those big things that talk about "Download" on the page?

Advertisements. For other, albeit it often similar, products.

The admonitions that you should check for outdated drivers first?

Advertisements, nothing more.

It happens here, too...

Here's an image of my own page which recommends ImgBurn:

ImgBurn page on Ask Leo!

Google's AdSense service chooses which ads are shown. That big Download button? That's an ad for a similar product which is not ImgBurn.

It's actually gotten somewhat better in recent months. Ads used to appear that said in big, bold letters "RECOMMENDED DOWNLOAD" for products that not only had I not recommended, but in many cases, never even heard of.

Advertising is the cost of free

Advertising is what keeps Ask Leo! and many services on the web free. I try to keep it respectful of your time and attention, but even then, I don't have total control over every nuance of every ad.

More often than not, the ads are very well targeted and offer very reputable and appropriate products and services - I've occasionally joked that sometimes the ads displayed are so well targeted that they are the answer.

The Internet, you say? Color Me Skeptical

And yet sometimes, ads can be misleading.

Sometimes sites can be even more underhanded with many misleading advertisements around the content or download link that you're actually looking for.

One mistake and you might be downloading something that you didn't expect.

Awareness keeps you safe

The solution is relatively simple: approach the internet with skepticism.

Understand what is, and is not, an advertisement.

Read carefully the information on the page where you're expecting a download to make sure that what you click on is indeed the download that you want.

And if you're not sure - don't click. Maybe ask a friend for their opinion of what is, and is not, the download link that you're looking for.

Article C5104 - March 7, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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19 Comments
Ken B
March 7, 2012 12:26 PM

Thank you for the article, especially the illustrations. I've been "online" since the early 90's, and hate those advertisements. I know enough not to click on them, but the fact that I need to waste my time and search the page to find the "real" download link is a royal pain, to say the least.

Mark J
March 7, 2012 2:25 PM

@Ken B
That's the price of "Free".

John
March 7, 2012 5:11 PM

@Ken B

Would you prefer that the ads are removed but instead you have to pay to download that software. It just amazes me that people think everything on the Internet should be free and they have some inalienable right to view websites (which cost $$$ to run) without advertisements.

Ken B
March 8, 2012 3:08 PM

It's not advertising that I dislike so much. Re-read the article. It's when advertisements overpower the content that the content appears secondary, and in particular when advertisements are designed to make it look like they *are* the content, where I have issues. Check those screenshots again.

Me
March 9, 2012 8:11 AM

Actually, the cnet download.com has put on their own download wrapper which tries to install a toolbar or something. Ive stopped using it since. Softpedia doesn't do that so Ive gone there instead.

I've not encoutered that from a download site, and did not see it on download.com. However: I've definitely seen it in the installers for various software packages regardless of where they were downloaded from. More on that here: Why do I suddenly have another toolbar in my browser?
Leo
09-Mar-2012
Nils torben
March 9, 2012 8:39 AM

I have to mention it, as no one else has yet -
Ad-blockers have been invented!
Example: AdBlock for Google Chrome.

omi
March 9, 2012 8:51 AM

Classic trick by advertisers. One must read web page carefully before downloading free stuff. Run the *.exe file in custom or step-by-step mode as they like to force their toolbars in your pc. Free offerings are not always desirable.

Scott
March 9, 2012 9:19 AM

The links mentioned only appear on some downloads ... see {link removed} for an example ... you better not be in a hurry ... if you click the big green button referred to in Leo's example page, you get the downloader (and toolbar) ...

David Jackson
March 9, 2012 10:36 AM

When you hover over the download buttons, if the status bar is enabled, you'll see where the button points - look for a zip or exe file with the name you are expecting. If it is a link to another place, this will usually be obvious from the link detail.

Jim de Graff
March 9, 2012 11:57 AM

I agree. The two most irritating things related to downloading are:

Having to click through umpteen "Download Now" buttons before actually getting to download something.

Sites that advertise "Free Download" but ask for money after you install the software. The download is free but the usage is not. Technically not false advertising but c'mon.

Me
March 9, 2012 1:04 PM

Heres the download.com wrapper I mentioned earlier. I wasnt too clear on that (I havent been too well lately):

http://www.extremetech.com/computing/93504-download-com-wraps-downloads-in-bloatware-lies-about-motivations

~Cathy
March 9, 2012 6:36 PM

There's a new trick I've run across lately. The download offers something else like a toolbar, browser, or changing your home page. You can uncheck the box by the offer, but at the bottom, choosing Decline installs the stupid thing. Clicking the Continue button doesn't. The fine print tells you that, but it's a whole paragraph of *stuff* that nobody really wants to read. Gotcha!

Ken
March 9, 2012 10:51 PM

Leo,
What is the name of this downloader file. I would like to scan my computer to see if I have fallen victim to this problem.

Tony Kightley
March 10, 2012 12:36 AM

I agree that the situation can be very frustrating when one knows, exactly, why one wants. But, as you say, it is the price we have to pay to be able to have these facilities.
If I hover the mouse over the link, I get the URL displayed along the bottom left of the page, just above the taskbar. This shows whether the link is directed to what I want or not. But, perhaps, this facility is not, always, available - I use Firefox. I find it to be very useful in avoiding going to sites I do not want. Can it be turned on or off?

JustInspired
March 10, 2012 7:03 AM

I usually prefer to use Ninite for 'crap free' downloads and FileHippo for those I can't get on Ninite.

Tim
March 10, 2012 7:18 AM

I understand your point about advertising making free services possible. But, my time is valuable too. If the Ask Leo site has a misleading download link or button and it wastes my time getting something I don't need who do you think I'm upset with? It's Leo, not the advertiser. Free or not if you have a site you have some responsibility for the content.

Jack
March 10, 2012 9:04 AM

The easiest way to get a file you want is to, hylite the file,right click and choose copy,open Google,paste and choose a site. Just check the link (usually at the bottom) to make sure it's not where you just were.
There are many download sites that are fast simple and usually pop-up the download.
Your anti virus "should" check these links automatically so you know they are safe.Major Geek's is one I use that in very good, but there are many others so you can find one you like. But as Leo has said,"use a little common sense".

Mike
March 13, 2012 12:59 PM

Even when I'm pretty sure I clicked the right button, I always check the download manager in Firefox which shows the name of the file and download progress. You can simply abort the download if it looks wrong.

Jonathan Wood
May 31, 2012 12:51 PM

I just talked to a user who got bit by this on my site (www.blackbeltcoder.com). He said he clicked a big green download button but didn't get the content he was after. When I explained we have no big green download button on that page, we realized what happened. This is a Google AdSense ad that now reflects badly on me and therefore reflects badly on Google AdSense. Google has some responsibility here and there should be a way to block such blatantly misleading ads. My only other option is to abandon AdSense.

Check your Adsense account settings. You do have the option to block specific ads and even enter adwords accounts. It can turn into a game of whack-a-mole, but I recently blocked a bunch of those stupit "DOWNLOAD" ads here.
Leo
31-May-2012

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