If you purchased a new Lenovo notebook late last year you might have wondered why you were seeing strange ads every time you did a Google search. The answer is simple: Lenovo installed adware on your brand-new PC. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a PC manufacturer preinstall questionable software on consumer laptops … and it probably won’t be the last.
Questioning Superfishy Behavior
Lenovo issued a statement today admitting that the company installed an adware program called Superfish “on some consumer notebook products shipped in a short window between September and December [of 2014] to help customers potentially discover interesting products while shopping.”
That is a polite way to acknowledge Superfish is adware that injects third-party ads on Google searches and websites without the user’s permission. In the same statement, Lenovo claims the company has taken the following swift and decisive action in response to negative user feedback:
- Superfish has completely disabled server side interactions (since January) on all Lenovo products so that the [adware] is no longer active. This disables Superfish for all products in market.
- Lenovo stopped preloading the software in January.
- Lenovo will not preload this software in the future.
Despite concerns leveraged by some users that Superfish uses a self-signed root certificate authority which allows the adware to “see” secure connections like banking websites or credit cards, Lenovo claims an internal investigation of Superfish did not find any evidence to substantiate that the adware poses a security risk to users. Lenovo’s official statement goes on to assure customers that “Superfish technology is purely based on contextual/image and not behavioral. It does not profile nor monitor user behavior. It does not record user information. It does not know who the user is. Users are not tracked nor re-targeted. Every session is independent.”
How Much Is “Bloatware” Worth?
Despite these assurances, some Lenovo customers are going online to challenge Lenovo’s statement that “users are given a choice whether or not to use [Superfish].” The reality is, despite the fact that users can uninstall Superfish and almost any preinstalled software, every PC manufacturer that preinstalls software on a new PC knows the majority of consumers will use the default settings and won’t uninstall the “bloatware” that comes with their computer.
While Lenovo may be the only manufacturer to admit to using Superfish, Lenovo isn’t alone in choosing to profit from predictable customer behaviors. Manufacturers install bloatware on new PCs because they’re paid to do so. The profit margins on consumer PCs are so low that manufacturers like HP, Dell, Toshiba, Asus, Lenovo, and others rely on contracts with software developers to preinstall software that most people would consider to be “junk” at best and potential security risks at worst.
Every laptop manufacturer claims the preinstalled applications “enhance the user experience” but the real reason bloatware shows up on new PCs is simple; incremental revenue. While these individual contracts with individual software developers might not be “financially significant” to the PC manufacturer’s bottom line, the revenue from all preinstalled software is enough to keep prices low on consumer PCs.
Again, this entire revenue stream is based on the idea that most customers will never uninstall any software that comes preinstalled on their new PC … which is why some may question whether users are given a “choice” in the matter.
On the other hand, would every consumer really pay an extra $200 or more for budget laptops that are currently priced at $399 just to avoid bloatware?
The Choice Is Yours … More Or Less
When Windows 8 was released, Microsoft was kind enough to include an easy way to remove all bloatware from a PC using the built-in Refresh or Rest options that restore Windows to a clean install state. Unfortunately, system manufacturers realized this was jeopardizing an existing revenue stream and started creating custom recovery images (complete with all the original bloatware) to ensure that customers keep using the preinstalled software.
This leaves most consumers with only a couple of options if they don’t want bloatware. First, you can always buy a fresh copy of Microsoft Windows and install a completely clean version of your operating system. This “burn it all and start over” method is arguably the easiest solution but also the most expensive if you don’t already have a clean Windows installation disk.
If you don’t have the budget for a clean copy of Windows there are free third-party software options like “The PC Decrapifier” or “Should I Remove It?” which simplify the process of removing bloatware by attempting to automatically locate known bloatware applications and giving you the option to delete them. The team at Should I Remove It? has also compiled a convenient list of the most common bloatware applications according to manufacturer (although it’s worth noting that Superfish and some newer bloatware isn’t listed at the time of this writing).
Your last option for dealing with bloatware removal is the old tried-and-true method of using the “uninstall or change a program” tool within the Windows Control Panel. Simply go to your Control Panel, click on “Uninstall a program” and look at the list of installed programs. From there, you can uninstall programs you don’t want. If you’re unsure about whether or not one of the preinstalled applications on your PC is bloatware then you can check Google for the name of the software. While this last option works, we do not recommend that casual PC users uninstall applications via the Control Panel unless they know what those applications do. Randomly uninstalling software could disable your display, keyboard or mouse/touchpad and make it virtually impossible for you to easily fix the problem.
Vigilance Is The Price Of
Freedom Cheap Laptops
Unfortunately, experience has taught us to doubt whether notebook manufacturers will ever give up preinstalling questionable software on budget laptops. As we’ve mentioned, the incremental revenue from these software deals is too good to pass up as long as profit margins remain this thin and consumers continue to demand the cheapest laptops. This means our only choice is to either live with bloatware or make the individual effort to identify these questionable applications and remove them from our PCs after purchase.