Digsby Joins The Dark Side, Uses Your PC To Make Money

The popular Digsby instant messenger client not only bundles half a dozen "optional" crapware applications, it's also using your computer to crawl the web, do stock market research, and more. It's time to uninstall.

Bundling Crapware is a Despicable Business Model

Many popular freeware applications bundle crapware into their setup files, prompting you during the installation process to install something that nobody wants—like the Yahoo/Ask.com/SomeRandomCompany browser toolbar. Tech-savvy users may consider this nothing more than an annoyance, but this practice preys on unsuspecting or less knowledgeable users that click "Next" through every setup screen, and the makers of any software that do this should be ashamed of themselves.

Digsby takes bundled crapware to a whole different level, however. During the install you are prompted for not one, not two, but six different pieces of junk software, and then for good measure they offer to replace your home page with something terrible and take your search engine down a notch.

Don't think it's all that bad? Here's an example of one of the bundled crapware applications—a piece of software that tracks everything you are searching online and shows you "offers" in a sidebar window. Does that really sound like something anybody anywhere would ever want?

It Gets Even Worse: Your PC is Being Used Without Your Knowledge

You can debate the merits of bundled crapware, and brush away the despicable nature of preying on those lacking adequate tech skills, but did you realise that Digsby is also using your processor to make money?

That's right. Buried in the Terms of Service that almost nobody ever bothers reading, there's this exploiting-the-fine-print gem explaining that they will use your CPU to run distributed computing problems that make them money:

15. USAGE OF COMPUTER RESOURCES. You agree to permit the Software to use the processing power of your computer when it is idle to run downloaded algorithms (mathematical equations) and code within a process. You understand that when the Software uses your computer, it likewise uses your CPU, bandwidth, and electrical power. The Software will use your computer to solve distributed computing problems, such as but not limited to, accelerating medical research projects, analysing the stock market, searching the web, and finding the largest known prime number. This functionality is completely optional and you may disable it at any time.

Hold everything! They are going to use my computer for "searching the web" without explicitly asking for my permission? What exactly are they indexing, and how do I know they aren't accessing something illegal with my computer? Why are they trying to hide this in the first place?

To be fair, they do give you a way to disable this absurd nonsense—though they bury the setting behind a "Support Digsby" item on the menu, with no clear description on exactly what they are doing with it. It's clear they are abusing their users, but since they technically explain it in the TOS and let you disable the feature, they weasel out of any responsibility.

Think it's just paranoia? This has been reported, on the Digsby forum,more than a few times, and in fact was announced on the Digsby blog as an official way they are going to make some money, with Plura Processing as a partner. The Plura Processing blog confirms that they are, in fact, crawling the web using your computer:

Custom Web Crawling – 80legs is using Plura to do distributed web crawling. Rather than having data centres with very fat pipes, they use a portion of the bandwidth of the Plura nodes to crawl the web. In order to improve the success ratio for each work unit, 80legs sends out Plura WUs with very few URLs to crawl.

This isn't just some language buried in the TOS. It's a sneaky way they are planning on making money from people without explicitly asking them first. If you really want to be paranoid, consider that these people have the credentials to all your online accounts.

Just Need to Pay the Bills? Give Me a Break!

While there's no way to tell exactly how much money Digsby is making from the sneaky use of your computer and abusing the less knowledgeable with loads of crapware, there is one disturbing fact that you should consider: They are paying up to $US1 for every new user that you refer to them through their affiliate program. If they can pay that much money for every new user, they aren't just paying the bills anymore.

What do I get paid for? You get paid for every new user that installs Digsby. How much do I get paid? You get paid up to $US1.00 for every new user that installs Digsby. The amount varies depending on the geographic location of the person installing Digsby.

The Guise of Ad-Free Doesn't Get You Off the Hook

Digsby and other subtle-but-shady software makers excuse themselves from their crapware-bundling behaviour by saying that this model enables them to provide the product free of charge, and free of ads.

Except in this case, that argument is completely bogus. Digsby sends out "Announcements" containing ads or, in at least one case, requests for you to vote in a poll of the five best instant messenger clients. As far as I can tell, there's no way to switch off this behaviour, and while they might not be abusing it too badly right now, if they are willing to try and sneakily use your computer, you can bet it's not going to stop.

Summary: Stick with Open Source

The only way you are definitely going to avoid greedy software developers exploiting you is to stick with open source, make sure to donate to your favourite open source projects, and stop installing software with bundled crapware.

It's time to end the reign of bundled crapware. Uninstall Digsby.

Be Careful Not To Install Junk Software with Digsby [How-To Geek]

Note: Every now and then, we like to go on grumpy, long-winded, opinionated rants<. We're not necessarily the definitive voice, and your feelings may differ, so feel free to air your thoughts in the comments.


Comments

    Hi,

    I work at Plura and would love to take the time to talk with you about how Plura works. While we do use the compute time from some Digsby users' computers, we do so in a highly secure, safe and lightweight way. Digsby has worked closely with us to make sure their users' computers are kept safe. They're good guys and not members of the "dark side", as they are painted in this article.

    I'd be more than happy to give you the facts on how Plura works, how much Digsby and our other affiliates earn on a per-user basis, and much more if you're interested.

      That's beside the point. Fact is, Digsby is using OUR resources to help them with their processing, without specifically asking, or giving us the option in the setup (but it will happily give us the option for 6 different 'crapware' programs...).
      I don't care about the level of processing it's using, or how lightweight it is. This is (very impolitely) utilising my resources, and therefore costing me money (again, exactly how much is not relevant, it's beside the point). I will be uninstalling Digsby.

        I agree that Digsby should have been more up-front in disclosing their Plura integration. In fact, in the next update, they will be showing Plura more explicitly upon installing their application. My understanding is that they are aware of the concerns raised here and are updating their product to address them.

      "I work at Plura and would love to take the time to talk with you about how Plura works."
      If you called me up on the phone and started with that line, I'd be likely to politely tell you "Sorry, I don't want any" and hang up. I know a sales pitch when I hear one.

      Not only is what digsby does underhand and despicable, but it's abusive too. If I wanted a distributed computing client installed on my machine, I'd install one. If I wanted to do something more to support digsby (and I would have if they'd been upfront!) I'd have looked into it, considered my options and proceeded from there. But to have it forced out and not be told about it - very uncool.

      Most annoyingly though? Not only will I be uninstalling my own version, but those of others too, and retraining them in another client and it's quirks. Pidgin it is.

        Once again, I agree that Digsby needs to be more up-front about integration with our technology.

      well if you haven't told us straight out that your installing this crap then you are in fact being deceptive and that is a trait of shifty people

      i don't use digsby (never have) but i wouldn't even try it now knowing that this is going on (is there anything shifty going on behind pidgin (apart from the bland interface))

    That's not exactly the point, though, is it, Shion?

    Flip. In two minds, but then again, going to give Pidgin a try now. Bye, Digsby.

      Mind you, I would pay a small sum for this program - it is rather good. I understand they need to make money, and heck, if I can buy apps on my iphone for $2 - $5, why not a great piece of software I use daily?

    OMG - Crapware is no surprise but using my computer to trawl the web. Have uninstalled. Very disappointed, might have to go back to Trillian or maybe Pidgin.

    This is rubbish. Be forward with what you are doing with the product, and people will be more content then when you hide it from them. I will be uninstalling digsby. Is there any other alternative that you can recommend? Maybe its time for an article on the best types of multi-im clients?

    It's such a shame. I really liked the way Digsby integrated not just chat but email notification as well. I knew it bundled crap-ware but that's just a bit silly. If you're trading off the fact you're a free product you should be open about this sort of thing too.

    I guess I'll give pidgin a go :-)

    This is not new news...
    http://blog.digsby.com/archives/68 (Dec. 08) discusses the issues with stealth computing, and they acknowledge they should have been more upfront.
    Peter

    I too would pay a small iPhone App like fee for crapware and deceit free software but to be not even given a choice - add me to the list of uninstallers today...

    If I have understood this article correctly, all the crap ware features are behind the support Digsby function in the help menu.

    I have just updated my Digsby, looked at my Support Digsby function and there is absolutely nothing "set".

    This means I do not have any of the crapware running. Is that correct?

    Just uninstalled digsby. It's a pity since I really like using the application.

    Going to try Pidgin now.

    As soon as digsby bundled the *wares in the installer I just made sure I kept the old setup file.

    As digsby does self updates I just install from the original setup.exe.

    I was using digsby for twitter/im/email notifications however we seem to be only using the im/email parts now and could probably just go back to GTalk...

    even though the digsby character has no mouth.. digsby can suck my...

    i tryed to install digsby a while ago but after so many "accept this crap" and "accept that crap" i didn't finalize the install.

    I used to then think.. why are lifehacker so much in love with this bloated crap. Well guess the divorce papers are signed now so good ridems to that mouthles tryhard little green skater thingy shit!

    all they really have to do is disable it by default, ask people "hey, you heard of seti? we do the same thing, click here to enable" and theyre set

    i dunno if everyone needs to jump ship tho...if you read the article, you can disable it (altho the article shows the older version of digsby)
    if you havent read the artcle, what you dont know cant hurt ya

    I subscribe to this feed and also the digsby blog. Looks like the developers read lifehacker too as they have posted a response on their blog and are pushing big changes to their software because of it. You can read it here: http://blog.digsby.com/archives/693

    bye Digsby

    Well with nothing set since either they didn't exist in my original install or I deselected them I don't see a problem.

    Pretty much as Nicholas Orr says.

    I came to Digsby cos I didn't think much of Pidgin and the other alternatives.

    Lifehacker VS. Digsby - The public trial is now opened at AllRise.com community court. Join in to influence the verdict http://bit.ly/AllRise238

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