Google censorship has always been hit and miss. But are the disparities in file downloads intentional to stamp out competition?
I wanted to download the latest version one of the world’s most popular image viewing/editing programs today. Irfanview has been a staple part of my freeware “get stuff done with minimum fuss” image editing arsenal for years. It beats Microsoft’s built-in viewer hands down and gives Picasa a run for its money too.
After navigating to the official Irfanview site and initiating the download I was greeted with a message from Google:
This file is malicious and has been blocked.
No matter where I tried to download it from — CNET, TUCOWS, wherever — I received the same message. Doing either of the following actions circumvented this behaviour:
- Using a different browser (even IE).
- Turning off the Protect me and my device from dangerous sites setting in Chrome.
The latter still threw a warning when I tried to re-download the file:
This type of file can harm your computer. Do you want to keep it?
And I then got the option to Keep or Discard it. Oh, so a few moments ago it was definitely malicious. Now, after changing a setting, it only might be malicious. Which is it, Google? Hmm?
Having obtained the file, I ran it through two independent virus scanners, just in case: both came back clean. I then executed the installer. Like a lot of so-called Freeware these days, at one point during the wizard process there was an advert page that asked if I wanted to opt in to some extension or other. But it was very clearly marked, with checkboxes and a Skip/Decline button, so was easy to bypass. My guess is that’s what Google objected to.
To prove this hypothesis I went off to download Java, which powers Google’s Android platform. This officially sanctioned piece of bloatware by Sun, now owned by evil Oracle, has a nefarious bunch of “offers” during the installation process, in which you have to hunt for the checkboxes or skip buttons to bypass. Did Chrome flag this as malicious or harmful in any way? Nope. In fact, with the Protect me and my device from dangerous sites setting ON, it just downloaded it directly without even so much as a peep.
Bizarrely, turning the setting OFF (i.e. leaving me “unprotected”) resulted in the same warning as Irfanview; that Java may be a harmful program and I had the choice to keep it or not.
So why this disparity? Why is Google nannying us? I’m a big boy. Surely I can decide if I want to allow something on my computer or not. Fine, throw a warning if you must, but don’t forbid me from getting the file under the false pretence of veiling me in some blanket of safety.
The only reason I can fathom for flagging Irfanview as malicious and Java as not, despite them both employing wizard-based advertisement opt-ins (and Java’s being arguably more difficult to opt out), is something I touched upon above: Irfanview is a direct competitor to Picasa, made by Google. Java supports Android, made by Google.
Coincidence? Don’t be evil.