Yahoo Instant Computer Polluter

According to
this story,
Yahoo has decided that they know better than you do what software you want to install and run on your computer and what you want your default home and search pages to be.

The latest version of Yahoo Instant Messenger, which comes as a “highly recommended” upgrade, comes bundled with something like 5 additional pieces of software by default, along with browser hijacking features that change your default start and search pages to Yahoo from whatever you had them set to.

From the article linked above:

By accepting Yahoo’s “typical” installation of YIM with Voice, it will also download Yahoo’s Search Toolbar with anti-spyware and anti-pop-up software, desktop and system tray shortcuts, as well as Yahoo Extras, which will insert Yahoo links into the Internet Explorer browser. The IM client also contains “live words,” which will automatically show an icon when the user highlights words online and then hyperlink to Yahoo search results, definitions or translation tools. Finally, the installation will alter the users’ home page and auto-search functions to point to Yahoo by default.

To avoid these changes, users must actively choose the “custom” installation and uncheck five boxes.

Yahoo spokeswoman Terrell Karlsten said that for avid Yahoo users, the included services are valuable and highlight the integration among all its tools.

“By setting it that way we’re giving people choices. For people who want to download software in one fell swoop, they have that option. If they don’t want it we give them the ability to customize it,” Karlsten said.

I suppose that’s technically true, but why then, instead of turning these installations on for us, couldn’t you turn them off and give us the option of turning them on ourselves? The answer to that question is a simple one. Yahoo and other companies that engage in this increasingly common practice understand very well who the average computer user is and how that person interacts with his or her machine. They realize that a large portion of their user base consists of people who, when it comes time to install anything, simply click next repeatedly until they see finish and their new software starts working. These people barely take enough time to read the screen let alone to look for options that it might be in their best interests to configure in a certain way or to look for unreasonable terms in a user agreement that they might want to know about. In short, the software developers realize that the same people who aren’t smart enough to turn something off are more than likely not smart enough to turn it on either. And if you’re Yahoo, which set-up is the better one when it comes to pushing new products and services on to the desktop of Joe User? That’s right, the bad one. Spyware and adware pushers opperate under the same assumption, which is part of the reason why those companies are so successful.

Yahoo, by doing what they’ve done here, has lowered itself to the same level as some of those companies, even if the bundled software is designed to help. What the software does or is supposed to do isn’t the issue at all. The issue is one of personal choice, the right for one to use one’s computer as he/she so chooses, without fear of some marketing company, no matter how well intentioned, violating that right. Under any other circumstance, this sort of thing is called either trespassing or breaking and entering. Why should it be any different when the private property in question is a computer?

I should also point out before anyone decides to accuse me of being a hypocrite for being soft on people who don’t pay enough
attention to things that my condemnation of Yahoo’s actions is in no way meant to give a free pass to anyone. Should people be more careful and more mindful of what they’re doing? Absolutely, but that doesn’t make Yahoo and companies like it any less wrong. Just because you tell somebody to do something doesn’t mean they’re going to do it. If the world worked that way, there would be no repeat offenders in jails around the world. For that matter, there wouldn’t be any first time offenders either.

My point is that responsibility is a 2-way street. The end user has a responsibility to watch out for himself and Yahoo has a responsibility to give that user what he asks for and nothing more. And that being the case, shouldn’t Yahoo be expected, given its apparent desire to make the user experience as pleasant as possible, to lead by example and hold up its end of the bargain even if it means that a few less people might end up using a certain service? That doesn’t sound unreasonable to me, and it even makes good business sense since the customers that end up using it are more likely to be happy ones, which over time would probably lead to many more people using the service if the product is good. Word of mouth is a powerful thing whether it be positive or negative, and if Yahoo and others could just think long-term, posts like this one would look nothing like posts like this one, something that I’m sure even Yahoo with it’s backward logic would have to agree would be a good thing.

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