The issue of Flash Player bundling: A matter of trust

It’s great to know that Macromedia monitors these humble blog sites, sale and it’s even better to know that they’re concerned about what we have to say. I just received a comment from John Dowdell of Macromedia Support asking me to help clarify my recent post regarding Macromedia’s packaging of the Yahoo! Toolbar with the Flash player for certain Web visitors.

After responding to his post, capsule I realized others may not quite understand my position, either (It was classified under “rant” after all), so I figured I’d post his message and my response here. So here we go:

Hi, I’d like to be able to clearly present your concern to my partners, could you check me here, please? How would you rank the following concerns which I could synthesize out of your post?
— Don’t like Yahoo
— Gives Java or C++ arguments some ammo
— Not clear of future scope of ways to shift Flash costs from authoring tools to corporations
— Not sure of spyware/malware risks or implications
— Other

(The FAQ on the site advises that the only people who see this must (a) surf IE/Win (b) must click “GetFlash” link instead of the normal ActiveX (c) must not already have Yahoo Toolbar installed. Web search term of “site:macromedia.com yahoo toolbar” brings up more.)

Could you help me to relay your core concerns most effectively? Thanks!

Regards,
John Dowdell
Macromedia Support

And my response, which still may or may not be coherent:

Thanks for the comment, John! It’s great to see Macromedia is monitoring the blogs and fielding our questions. In return, I’ll do my best to answer yours, too. Hopefully, I’ll speak sensibly on each of your points:


How would you rank the following concerns which I could synthesize out of your post?

Don’t like Yahoo

This is not an issue at all. In fact, I feel rather sorry for Yahoo in this; I truly wish them no harm, and in fact, I use and enjoy many of their services.

I do wish them good luck with their toolbar, but I hope they’ll find better ways of marketing it than packaging it with other company’s software. In my mind at least, such arrangements always seem to cheapen my view of both party’s wares, as if neither could stand on it’s own.

Gives Java or C++ arguments some ammo

It rather does, don’t you think? If I can download the Java Virtual Machine WITHOUT the fear of installing “something extra,” then, as a business, I’d rather search for Web apps built on THAT technology than attempt to find ones built on something that now seems to be a marketing ploy.

It’s the proverbial “slippery slope:” First, the flash player comes bundled with something I’m not interested in otherwise. Why should I not expect the next version to have even more “marketing potential” built in? Will Flash Player 8 feature content-sensitive ad delivery built in?

And no I’m not saying this is the inevitable outcome, but I think you might understand the reason for suspicion. Just about everybody on the Web has faced unwanted advertising, and anything we can do to nip it in the bud is welcome. Once I’ve paid for Flash MX 2004 Studio Professional and spent time and money developing an application it it, I don’t want my potential clients to see MY work as being associated with third-party advertisers.

Not clear of future scope of ways to shift Flash costs from authoring tools to corporations

I’m not sure I understand this, but I think I may have addressed it above. In short, I see the Flash player as the means to deliver new software to the public: a Runtime or Virtual Machine, to be specific. If the runtime itself is being used for marketing purposes, I’ll look for one that doesn’t.

Not sure of spyware/malware risks or implications

This is probably the main reason for my concern, but it’s also the CAUSE of the other concerns listed here.

It’s not so much the existence of spyware, but the POTENTIAL of spyware that is raised by this packaging. Until now, I never even entertained the idea that Macromedia would do such a thing. This was naive perhaps, but now I have a hard time imagining that the company WOULDN’T entertain the idea if a “partner” with deep enough pockets came knocking.

In essence, it’s a matter of trust between Macromedia, the developers who create apps with its products, and the companies who will rely on both.

Other

As you can see, the problem I have is not with Yahoo or the idea that Macromedia needs to make money, too. But when I develop an application for a client and tell him he’ll need to download the latest Flash player from your Web site, I don’t want to feel like I’m sending him to FreeIpods.com or some other “GET YOUR FREE GIFT FOR FILLING OUT THIS SURVEY” site. Macromedia is better than that, and I hope it’ll stay that way. (Promote Yahoo Toolbar like crazy all over the Macromedia site if you need to, but just don’t make my clients feel like they’re being asked to download something they wouldn’t otherwise.)

Hope this helps, John, and again, thanks for asking!

(VeryVito)
abuse@turdhead.com

Hope this helps others, too!

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66 thoughts on “The issue of Flash Player bundling: A matter of trust”

  1. Let’s give MM an ultimatum to take it off or at least give users the option to deselect the yahoo bar during installation.
    If not we would add the flashplayer to spyware and adblock engines.

    This is just a way for MM demise.


    [Editor’s note: To be fair, there IS an option to NOT download the Yahoo! toolbar; the problem is that it’s not the default issue, and users downloading “in a hurry” may not notice that the default delivery includes the toolbar.]

  2. “By accepting the terms of this Agreement, you represent to Yahoo! Inc. and its
    affiliates (collectively, “Yahoo!”) that you are at least 18 years old”

    Since when was the Flash Player age restricted?!

    Not going to go any further as I have made my comments elsewhere and agree with a lot of the sentiment displayed here. What a crappy move… 🙁

  3. We’ve already had client’s complain about the download. They didn’t want to deal with understanding the offer, then opting out. Also, an interesting complaint is that it looks very confusing to to download the plugin. This is probably due to the EULA and options.

  4. What I find interesting is that all of this Yahoo business shows how really insincere all the comments from John and others at Macromedia have been regarding the tradeoffs in increasing the power of the Flash player and the size (i.e. download time) of the Flash player. How can they say they can’t increase the size of the Flash player for fear of losing downloads, then turn around and include a 3rd party download as part of the bundle? One would think all that valuable download time would be better served with an enhanced Macromedia product, rather than a 3rd party product that is only a Yahoo away.

  5. I realize the last comment in this was a couple months ago, but I feel I have something to add. I just went to a website using Firefox (NOT IE) and was informed by the browser I needed Flash to view what I was there for. Here was my experience. I click the “plugin missing” icon and am presented with an installer. Couple steps in, I see the Yahoo Toolbar option in my face, which for me *instantly* triggers a spyware alert. I pop open the EULA for it, and notice something interesting. The EULA for the Yahoo Toolbar has sections regarding privacy that actually have the gall to link me to other, externally hosted EULA files, and even force me to copy and paste the URLs to see them. In the end I find I have to read through no less than FOUR EULA AGREEMENTS in order to know what I’m getting into with the yahoo toolbar. This prompts me to close all four of them and google search for “macromedia flash player spyware”, because by now I’m -certain- there has to be something awful in there or else I wouldn’t hvae to read through four long EULA’s, and the checkbox to install wouldn’t have “and accept the terms of the EULA” flagrantly stamped next to it. I decide it’s probably safe to just not install the toolbar and trust that the Flash player itself is clean and any spyware that may have been there would be in the toolbar. I made that decision ONLY because I have grown to trust Macromedia in the past, which happened only because their installers did not try to load me with extra crap. I should also note that I was asked for age verification TWICE, one for 18+ and one for 13+. The 13+ age verification I recognize instantly as going along with a U.S. law about protection of privacy of minors, and I see that age verification on everything that I know is going to spam me if I give it my address. The only reason I can think of for yahoo toolbar or flash player to ask me my age would be to affect the legality of collecting data on me. The 18+ seems more odd, because I recognize it only in conjunction with my right to view adult material, also something that should have NOTHING to do with Flash player, I hope.

    Points I feel are important to this discussion regarding that:
    1.) I did not go to the Macromedia website and I was most certainly presented with the Yahoo Toolbar, and installing was most certainly the default option. I also nearly missed it because I was accustomed to piggyback-free Flash players that I could just click Next through and be done with.

    2.) Even after trusting Flash Player for years, that one piggyback made me completely reevaluate that, and I wasted over an hour searching and reading to see if I could still trust that plugin, or if it had succumbed to the general corruption of the internet and I had to go without the content I was after. My decision would have been permanent had I decided (mistakenly or not) that it was now spyware and I could no longer install Flash on my computer. I was within inches of that after seeing Yahoo’s network of dozens of interconnected EULAs, before finding and reading this discussion. That is the response Macromedia now has to worry about from everybody who uses Flash, and the response Flash content providers now have to expect in conjunction with anyone attempting to view their content, and that is the core issue here. I get the feeling from John Dowdell’s comments that he seems to not expect this reaction, or to think it is unreasonable, but that is how most people over a “lukewarm” level of computer-savvy will react.

    3.) I am on the verge of ceasing the use of another popular program, namely Adobe Acrobat Reader. The reason is, they have begun piggybacking demo versions of other Adobe products in the installer AND IN THE AUTO UPDATE ENGINE. Every time I install Acrobat Reader (happens more often than you’d think, I’m a “freelance builder” of sorts) I now have to deselect two piggyback options that have nothing to do with the ability to read Acrobat files. Furthermore every time I used it, it would notify me, “an Acrobat Reader update is available! Would you like to upgrade?” This of course was to notify me that Adobe Photo Album Starter Edition (I believe that’s the piggybacker’s name) was not installed and the auto-update wanted me to install it. I eventually turned off automatic updates for Acrobat Reader to resolve the situation. We’ll see if I can continue using it, or if I have to find a freeware alternative to Adobe’s freeware reader, and that my friends is a sad situation.

    4.) By adding this Yahoo piggybacker, Macromedia associates its product through context to situations like the Acrobat Reader problem, and all other piggyback software issues, simply because you are doing the same thing they are, regardless if the software is innocent or not. My response to the flash player was to feel as if it was trying to trick me into accepting some term hidden in one of five EULAs that I would probably never find, because that is usually the situation when I see software being piggybacked elsewhere.

    5.) Yahoo’s toolbar, while not CURRENTLY spyware, has the right to become it. In the EULAs Yahoo reserves both sections for data collection policy (which of course is housed outside the EULA somewhere I never got to) and a section about their right to change the EULA without notice. Next week Yahoo Toolbar could be the Yahoo/Gator/LimeShop toolbar, and it would be within their EULA to do so. Furthermore this has happened in the past with other programs. (Kazaa for one, which was not initially spyware but became it later. It also seems relevant that Kazaa died soon after it decided to piggyback an entire shopping engine on top of its file-sharing features.) Yahoo receives income from advertisers and hosts shopping and auction channels, so I see no reason whatsoever to feel secure in them not turning the toolbar into spyware.

    So, while I assume John Dowdell has stopped listening in on this topic because of its age, I hope he is listening because I am trying to replace the cries of “I don’t like it” with specific, solid reasons why the public is, and should rightfully be, angry about this.

  6. MACROMEDIA LOADED THIRD PARTY SPYWARE ON MY COMPUTER. AS A RESULT MY COMPUTER CAUGHT ON FIRE WHILE I WAS TRYING TO REMOVE THE SPYWARE (OVERHEATED). THANKS MACROMEDIA! DO NOT DOWNLOAD MACROMEDIA!

  7. Hey! Long time no see. I kept my URL out because I notice you have a problem with spammers.

    I agree with your points. Especially where you mention that the products cannot stand alone on their own if they have to resort to this.

    Since my site is mostly flash content, I am forced to push the flash player installation on my visitors who wish to view the files, but ever since they added the Yahoo toolbar I have felt wrong doing so. It’s like saying if you come to my site you will leave with a toolbar installed. Toolbars have never been a popular product and companies resort to forcing it on people though bundled installations rather than coding something more useful than a needless tool with the main purpose of branding someone’s browser. Now I am getting angry.

    I don’t like John’s excuse of it being “only” IE visitors that see it. “Only” 94% of visitors. “Only” people like me with IE. I know if the toolbar worked with Firefox, it would show up for them as well, just as Google is pushing their toolbar with Firefox. I don’t use the ActiveX method either (I’m against ActiveX and all popups) so I help Macromedia by linking to their site so people update their player. I even have a JavaScript detection method to send people to their site if they don’t have the player.

    Some of my members save up a whole year to buy the Flash product just to create the content. Because of bundled software with the player for such expensive content, Flash has lost credibility as an interface medium of the web. Nothing is bundled to view other web code except Flash now. I cannot imagine Yahoo toolbar being bundled with jpeg viewing or javascript compatibility in browsers. Imagine visiting a site that’s asking you if you want to install a toolbar if you wish to view the site. If Macromedia were serious about being a mainstream web interface rather than a specialty plugin, they would not do this bundling thing.

  8. Are Macromedia really listening? Lets keep it nice and simple for them.

    Macromedia, please remove the Yahoo toolbar or at the very least make it an opt-in.

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  11. I am on the brink of insanity. Help. Ii’m simply trryin to download FLASH PLAYER 9. A pop up interrupts the process and reads: This page provides potentially unsafe information to an ACTIVEX control. Your current settings prohibit running controls in this manner. As a reslut this page may not display correctly.”

  12. Hi Michael — sounds like you’ve got your Internet Explorer security settings set to “High” (or otherwise managed to disable ActiveX). Try the following:

    Select Tools, then Internet Options from the menu at the top of the IE window. The Internet Options window will appear.

    Select Security from the list of tabs at the top of the Internet Options window. The Security tab will appear.

    Select the Custom Level button. The Security Settings window will appear.

    Scroll down to the Download signed ActiveX controls entry and select the prompt radio button.

    Scroll down to the Run ActiveX controls and plugins entry and select the enabled radio button.

    Select the OK button to accept the changes.

    That should do it. (Although at this point I would feel remiss if I didn’t add “just junk IE and switch to Firefox and save yourself some headaches!”)

  13. Hi Vito…HELP!!!I’ve lived with this “get flash player” pop-up parasite for a month.I expected Adobe to help me- HA!After promising to look in-to it two weeks ago,they cut me loose today.My computer is trashed I just got it,used. and had 2mo good use-then I downloaded adobe 8 reader and that was it,Seven people at adobe flat out denied it.I have reams of proof.For a 60yr old Luddite, I was learning quickly and enjoying it.Could I please have John’s address at adobe?.,
    I would like to tell him about this.Right now I’m going to post my Hyjack This! log.Thanks for listening. cc
    PS I have no adobe product on my machine now.

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