Apple up to its old tricks, pushing unwanted software onto PCs

Apple up to its old tricks, pushing unwanted software onto PCs

Summary: Apple has a long and checkered history of using its Apple Software Update program to push unrelated programs to Windows users. But I was floored today when I was offered an iPhone configuration utility as an important "update" on a system that has never had iPhone or even an iPod plugged into it.


[Update 28-Sep 1:20PM PDT: The iPhone configuration utility has apparently been removed from the Updates list. The contents of the New Software section are unchanged however, with QuickTime and iTunes both being selected by default when using the Apple Software Update utility. Thanks to Gregg Keizer of Computerworld for the tip. ]

I don’t own a lot of Apple products. My wife has an iPhone (she loves it), but I don't. I have an iPod Nano that I keep around for compatibility testing, but I haven't plugged it into a PC in this office in more than a year. On the Mac Mini that I'm currently using half-time, I've installed Boot Camp so I can switch between OS X Snow Leopard and Windows 7 Home Premium. The Windows installation is a bare-bones clean install with a minimum of software.

So imagine my surprise when I started Windows 7 (via Boot Camp) on my Mac this morning and was greeted with this surprising dialog box:

Under the Updates heading, Apple says I need the iPhone Configuration Utility. Oh really? Why, for heaven’s sake? I've never plugged an iPhone (or an iPod or any other Apple-branded hardware) into this computer. I have absolutely no need for this program. It will do nothing except take up disk space and memory and potentially represent a vector for security issues.

And yet Apple is telling me, for some reason, that I need to install this "update."

They’ve also conveniently selected some additional software for me in the form of QuickTime and iTunes, which is 137.5 MB of compressed installers that expands to well over 200MB of disk space when installed. If I click the Install button, all of a sudden I have a pile of software I don’t want or need, including the Bonjour network service.

Update: It's even worse than it appears. According to Simon Bisson, this update is actually "an enterprise tool for building device profiles. It's not for consumers [and] it adds an Apache install to your machine."  So if I install this update I suddenly have a web server running on my PC? Yikes. Simon points to this article from November 2008 for more details

I just checked on my wife's computer and found that this utility was installed on September 12, as part of an Apple Software Update operation. After looking at the utility in action, I can confirm that it does not provide any function that an ordinary home or small business user would need or want. Here's a screen shot:

So why do I have Apple Software Update running in the first place? Because, when I installed Boot Camp, Apple recommended it to me. Indeed, if there’s an important update to the Apple-provided software I actually chose to install - the Boot Camp services and assorted drivers for Apple's hardware - I would like to know about it. But there is no scenario under which any of these programs could be considered updates to software I installed, and Apple never asked my permission to offer additional software to me.

Apple has been pulling sneaky stunts like this for a long time. As I wrote last year, "Once again, Apple is using its automatic update process to deliver massive amounts of new software to users... And it’s delivering this massive payload without even a pretense of proper disclosure and without asking consent from its users."

As I've noted before, Apple is completely out of step with generally accepted norms for delivering updates and new software to users with proper consent (see What Microsoft can teach Apple about software updates, from March 2008). In the past 18 months, the only evidence Apple has shown that it is capable of learning from its mistakes is that it decided to stop installing Safari along with iTunes upgrades on Windows systems.

A program called Apple Software Update should do what it says and update Apple software. It shouldn’t push new programs on users. Not without getting their consent first.

Meanwhile, did you notice that iTunes 9 has now crossed the 100MB threshold? That’s a 25% increase in only one year. At the request of many correspondents, I’ve updated my popular post, Slimming down the bloated iTunes installer, to include the new stuff in iTunes 9.

Update: In response to a question in the Talkback section from my colleqgue Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, I ran a test in a clean virtual machine running Windows 7 Enterprise Edition. This is on a Dell XPS 420, not a system using Boot Camp;. I used the slimmed-down technique described in this post to install only iTunes 9, without Bonjour, Mobile Me, or Apple Mobile Device Support. This virtual machine has never seen any external hardware, certainly not an iPhone or an iPod Touch. Yet when I ran Apple Software Update, I was offered the iPhone Configuration Utility, under the Updates heading, exactly as shown here.

Topics: IT Employment, Apple, CXO, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • Hmmm ...

    Hmmm, I've had several APPL updates come in on several systems, and I've not seen that ... odd. Tried replicating on another system?
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • I've even checked for ...

      ... ignored updates too ... nothing ... odd
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • I think these get rolled out over weeks

        Had several mails from collegues at work about this 80 meg iPhone configurator. We're getting prompted for it on all machines with iTunes, even they have never started iTunes (they might have installed it just to get QuickTime)
        • Another reason to never install anything from Apple! :D

          I gave up on Apple a long time ago. That's why I never install iTunes or Quicktime or anything else from them anymore. If they get one thing on your system, you'll suddenly find junk, including their Spyware process still running. It isn't very easy to uninstall either, since they don't take it with them when their programs are uninstalled.

          Tried their Safarri Browser and I'm not sure about that PoS. It may be fast, but not fast enough to keep up w/ it's endless crashes and instability on Windows. Even IE8 and Google's Chrome are better w/o crashing the whole browser every few minutes. No doubt that for stability, Linux Browsers on that system can't be beat. Because when it comes to stability and problem free operation, Linux is King and that's quite simply the indisputable truth.

          For music players Songbird replaces iTunes nicely (Amarok on KDE for Windows is awesome too). Even WMP and Winamp are better than iTunes. Just install Mega Codec Pack and play anything you want.

          I use Cloud online storage for music with an embeddable music player w/ play lists. That way I have my music available on any system on the Web. I never buy music from iTunes and tell musicians that if they only sell their music there, they're losing me. Buy all my music from places like Amazon, Walmart, 7digital, etc, that may install a downloader, but leave the music for you to decide on what n where you want to play it!

          Apple SUCKS and with so many other phones coming on the market, why would you ever allow yourself to get tied n slowed down on AT&T's snail service? ;)
      • it was there on my update

        like I want Safari on Windows.
        I only have iTunes because of my wife's iPhone nice toy but At&T in the Bay Area is worthless.
    • Only have one Mac here w/ Boot Camp

      So not sure how I'm supposed to replicate.

      Anyway, this example is enough for me, given Apple's track record.
      Ed Bott
      • Wonder if Boot Camp is the factor ...

        ... odd if it is. Also odd is the fact that this update was pushed to a Win 7 system when the sys reqs only mention XP SP3 and Vista SP1.
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        • Is the iTunes User Account Associated With an Apple Development Program?

          Did you sign up for the iPhone SDK or anything? I wonder if that has
          something to do with it.
      • Too funny

        First, RTF, that is, Read The Form.

        The splash screen from Apple very clearly states: New software
        is available...Select the items you want, then click Install."

        Hilariously, Mr. Bott interprets that as "automatically" installing
        something he doesn't want. Gee, Ed, if you select nothing and
        don't click (two required positive actions on YOUR part) then
        nothing is installed. How challenging is that, if you actually
        read the very large font headline on the screen?

        Actually, since your ZD task is to generate hits/responses, you
        have done well, even sucking me in to this exercise in futility.
        • not so much but you're rather funny

          What's really funny is that mac software repeatedly falls to social engineering attacks, all of which require positive user interactions. This requires positive user interaction to install a web server which opens the doors to all sorts of little fun attacks and exploits and does absolutely nothing for the average user.

          So what exactly is an 'update' about this? Splash screens don't change what the software's general purpose is; to update and maintain already installed software. Not once using any other brand of software's updater have I ever been asked to install an unrelated piece of software. Sure, if I signed up to an email list, I get 'exciting new products' information, and sometimes during registration of a new software I'll get new offers that correspond to it. Since when has it ever been an 'updater's' job to push new unrelated products? Apologize all you like, apple is wrong, has been wrong every time they have done this and will be every time they do it in the future.
          • RE: Not once

            [i]Not once using any other brand of software's updater have I ever been
            asked to install an unrelated piece of software.[/i]

            Never updated XP around the time Windows Genuine Advantage was
            distributed in exactly this same manner?

            Apple is wrong everything they do something similar to this, just as
            Microsoft is wrong every time they do it and Adobe is wrong every time
            they do it. It's a crappy practice, but it's not limited to Apple.
          • nice straw man

            WGA is a verification tool to sort out legal and illegal copies of the OS, not the same thing at all. Though nice thought it just doesn't hold up, WGA isn't anything like the pushing of an unnecessary developers software.

            WGA verifies you are indeed using a legal OS, before that the OS was the most heavily pirated piece of software in the world. I see it as protecting their investment, so how does an advanced developers software that opens a web server on the machine have any beneficial impact to legitimate OSes?
          • That is true...

            but they do all still have shady software push practices. Seems to be an across the board problem, and not just one.

            Some are just more pushy then others (Adobe, Apple and many others).
          • You do realize

            all one has to do is UNCHECK the button and the software will not install. Wow. But Apple is wrong for including it in their installer. Whatever dude, here's your "I hate Apple" sign, go stand next to the trolls.
          • more apologist crap

            Apple is wrong to do it because its a 'software updater' not a normal installer. The normal user *shouldn't* have to tell someone they don't want *unsolicited & unnecessary* software.

            Just like they shouldn't have to tell a telemarketer to not call. Period. Nothing to do with hating apple, its common sense.

            OEMs are notorious for this, all kinds of pre-installed crap, though the trend is towards less and less due to the backlash they've received, but Apple just *isn't* learning from anything these days.
          • It's not just Apple

            install an Adobe product and in their installer is an option to install the google toolbar or yahoo toolbar - and THAT also is already preselected.

            But apparently it is just Apple that is wrong.

            Again in both situations all the user has to do is uncheck the box prior to install - it's just that easy and should not be the big deal you are making it out to be.

            Is it wrong? Depends... I happen to own an iPhone - the only Apple product I own BTW - and I saw it on the installer and decided to let it D/L so I could play around with it and see if it would be something I could use. And even if I did install it, it's not like some of the crapware floating around on the internet, all I have to do is go to the control panel and uninstall the thing.

            Again, not the big deal you make it out to be. But since this IS Apple after all, ZDNet's favorite whipping boy. And no, I'm not a rabid Apple fanatic - I'm writing this on my HP Pavilion running Vista SP2 - I'm just really tired of the whole Mac vs PC/ Apple vs Microsoft thing...
        • Ed's point is...

          Why is Apple even offering software for windows when all he did was install Boot Camp from OS X? Did you notice there was no Boot Camp update in the list of offerings?

          Apple should not have Apple Updater installed on his windows partition. How did that happen when he had to install Boot Camp before he could even do the Windows install?

          I agree with Ed. Apple is pushy. Apple Updater should not be running in his windows install for any reason.

          Apparently you missed the point of the article.

          • RE: updater on boot camp and missed points

            [i]Apple Updater should not be running in his windows install for any

            Apparently you missed the point of the article.[/i]

            Maybe you missed the point. The article doesn't concern why Apple
            Updater is installed, as the article very plainly states Ed selected to
            install it. The point is why is Apple Updater listing (and preselecting)
            an item as an update when it clearly has nothing to do with anything
            he has installed on the partition.

          • Remove your Apple-colored glasses

            Did you miss this?

            <strong><i>"The Windows installation is a bare-bones clean install with a minimum of software.</i></strong>

            Ed says he chose to install Apple Updater because Apple recommended it. His and my point is that there is no reason for it as there is no Apple software installed in his Windows partition other than hardware drivers. Apple misled him about its necessity as it was not offering an update for Boot Camp, but was pushing stuff he didn't want. Windows itself will let you know about driver updates being available. You shouldn't need boot camp for that. After all, it's just another PC once Windows is running. Right?

            His point is that Apple is trying to push out software to him after he had chosen <em>not</em> to install any before. If Apple was offering an update to Boot Camp, perhaps this would be justified. That's not the case.

            Can Apple users use GRUB (GRand Unified Bootloader)? If it was me dual-booting on a Mac, that's what I would do. Unfortunately Apple alienated me about 15 years ago so I'll never own another Mac. I used to have as many as three at a time before then for my small shop.
          • Microsoft is Different?

            Are you suggesting that Microsoft is not pushy?

            Many web sites I go to recommend that I install Silverlight, and when
            you go to download it Microsoft recommends that I upgrade to
            Internet Explorer!

            They don't even make Internet Explorer for the Mac anymore.

            Then if you install Microsoft Office 2004 you'll find that you'll have the
            new office converters installed whether you want them or not, and
            suddenly you start corrupting your old documents just by opening

            Microsoft alienated me years ago about the time my CVs stopped
            opening cleanly in all versions of Microsoft Word. Their software isn't
            safe for the workplace. I think that's a more serious issue than
            foolishly recommending that you install software you don't actually