Free Does Not Mean Free - Really!

Windows all versions

We've been asked numerous times how you can tell real freeware from "free" programs that contain adware, spyware, tracking software, hijackers, keyloggers, etc.. So in this tip we're going to give you some ideas and some general information that will help you decide, for yourself, is a free program is really free or if it has long, sleazy strings attached to it.

Only on the Internet could giant corporations get away with saying something is free when it has all kinds of unsavory strings attached. In the real world, consumer complaints would soon end their little games and either force them to be honest or force them out-of-business.

But on the Internet, there's a big problem and that problem is: There is no one definition of adware and no one definition of spyware. So a company can legitimately (as far as they're concerned) define adware or spyware in such a way that it does not apply to their software. FunWebProducts does this for example.

Thinking people, using only common sense can normally see past these little games that PUSware makers play and avoid downloading anything that's free that's really not free - because it's going to cost them a lot emotionally (can you spell AGGRAVATION?) or in computer repairs down-the-road. And, that's not even mentioning the personal information that could be scraped off your computer and sent back to a company's web server, foreign or domestic - for whatever purpose they wish.

So, we're going to try to make a simple set of rules for you to follow so you can determine if something is "really free".  By really free we mean free of charge, free of spyware, free or adware, free of spam-potential, free of search engine manipulators, free of browser and home page hijackers, free of anything questionable. This not only applies to free smileys but free anything. You and our other readers can apply these rules to anything downloadable. We think their very good rules and make a lot of common sense.

1. Is the company that offers the "free smileys" (or free whatever) a publicly traded corporation? If so, remember that most publicly traded corporations are "for profit" corporations. You have to ask yourself: "Why are they giving me this free?" and "How are they going to make me pay for this?"

2. Is the company offering the "free" software advertising heavily across the Internet. In other words have you seen their ads numerous places? This indicates that their spending a lot of money advertising their software. If it's software they're changing for and they advertise it, it makes sense. Coca-cola and Pepsi-Cola spend zillions on advertising. But they don't spend zillions on advertising to give you free Coke or Pepsi. Do they? So, if a company, Ask Jeeves,  for example, is spending millions on advertising FunWebProducts solely to give it away, you have to ask yourself "Why would they spend millions to give me something free?" and "What devices will they use to make money from me?" and "What's in it for them?"

3. If you're wondering about a program or service that seems too good to be true, do a search on Google (or your favorite search engine) for the name of the product and the word "spyware" or "adware". Chances are if the company or product has a dubious reputation you'll find out about it quick doing a search.

4. Is the company's or product's privacy policy, terms of service, or End User License Agreement an exercise in circumlocution? Is it full of contradictions, legalese, and long, incoherent paragraphs which appear to have been written by a feisty, zealous first-year law student intent on demonstrating his verbal prowess to his awestruck peers? Is it page after page of obtuse, legal mumbo-jumbo? Use your biggest anti-spyware/anti-junkware software program to ferret out these clowns. Use your brain.

If after, following all of the above rules, you still can't decide, follow rule #5:

5. When it doubt, leave it out. If you're not certain exactly what you're getting, it's best to leave the software right where it is - on a Web server, hopefully thousands of miles from you. Leave it out of your computer.

Legitimate free software programs are usually made by small companies or individuals and are supported by onsite ads (not in program ads which gobble up your system resources), sales of other non-free products, sales of affiliate products or a combination of all of these. And, many times, you'll come across a site run by a individual programmer who does programming as a hobby or to build a their resume in hopes of finding a good job.

It may be difficult sometimes for you to tell a small company site from a big company site. But if you take care and read the privacy policies of the sites (if they have one), investigate the site, use your brain and do your research -- it's really not that hard to figure out where the site's income comes from. If it seems to come from thin air - beware.

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