So here’s a question: why aren’t our European masters hounding a certain well-known company to stop them installing unwanted software on our computers? Every time a hole in the Flash plugin is fixed they insist on fiddling with people’s computers in a way that, if not actually illegal, seems to cause some users no end of hassle. If Microsoft included an update in every patch Tuesday that changes the user’s default web browser to Internet Explorer, I’m sure there would be a huge outcry.
I mean, here in the People’s Republic of Europe our faceless and unaccountable despots insist that I put my company’s registration number in every email message I send, apply for a license before I can save somebody’s email address in a database, and I even have to ask visitors to my website if they mind me sending them a cookie. Yet they do nothing about a company that tricks people into installing browser toolbars, and even whole web browsers.
Yes, it’s a rant, and mainly because – yet again – I’ve had calls from friends and colleagues who have discovered that their computer has “gone funny”. One even thought it was a virus, and is now too frightened to use the computer at all. And one call was from a relative whose computer I “fixed” just last month by resetting Internet Explorer as the default browser after the previous Flash player update.
I know you can argue that there’s a checkbox you can un-tick if you don’t want your system interfered with, but most inexperienced users won’t dare do that in case they “break the computer” – as an industry we regularly impress on users that they should not fiddle with settings unless they know what they are doing.
And, yes, you could argue that the option is clearly shown with a description of what it does. But why is it set by default? If I want a new web browser, then surely I should have to say yes – rather than forgetting (or being too frightened of breaking something) to say no. If your local supermarket required you to tell them every time you didn’t want some extra items automatically added to your shopping basket, you’d soon be writing to the local newspaper to complain. So at least try and persuade me to tick “yes” by telling me how wonderful the new browser is, rather than hoping I won’t notice you decided “yes” was the default.
But I suppose that, if you want to win the browser wars, maybe one way is to pay some other company to surreptitiously install it on everyone’s computer as part of a routine update…