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May 18, 2021

The Privacy Problem Posed by Bloatware

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Who doesn’t love buying a new piece of tech? It’s always exciting to get the box home, open up the packaging (the satisfaction of that plastic peel, am I right?), and power the device on. And then you find that half the storage on it is taken up by pre-installed software you don’t even want (and may not be able to remove). This software is known as bloatware. Many software developers pay device manufacturers to install their programs on new devices. Software updates may also result in the installation of branded programs. While some of these pre-installations are helpful, bloatware often diminishes device performance and may even hurt user privacy. Here’s what you should know:

  • What’s the problem with bloatware?
  • Is it really bloat?
  • Can I remove bloatware?
  • How can I avoid it?

What’s the Problem with Bloatware?

The first issue with bloatware is that it often reduces device performance. This happens because every time you start up your device, it has to devote significant energy to loading extra, unnecessary programs. Once loaded, they often run in the background as well, which eats up your RAM. 

The second issue is that bloatware may pose a risk to your personal privacy. Some of these programs include surveillance functionalities which report your actions back to their developers. In addition, if they have security flaws, these may put you at risk as well. Pre-installed bloatware isn’t the only kind that puts you at risk. In some cases, you may accidentally install malicious programs without realizing it. Malware and adware are the most commonly installed programs, which may both show you annoying pop-up ads and spy on your activities.

Is it Really Bloat?

Sometimes, you may notice software on your device and question whether or not it’s something useful, or if it’s unneeded, unwanted bloatware. There are a few ways you can quickly identify bloatware:

  • You don’t remember installing it. Normally, when you install a piece of software, you do so with deliberate intent. If you don’t remember installing it, you probably didn’t (so it’s probably bloat).
  • Uninstalling it is bizarrely difficult. It shouldn’t be difficult to uninstall software. If you’re having trouble, you may be dealing with bloatware.
  • It becomes aggressive. If the software begins aggressively asking for money as a way of unlocking new features, that may be a warning sign of bloatware.
  • You’re getting pop-up ads. Most softwares should not advertise to you. But if you starting seeing an unusual amount of ads both online and off, you could have bloatware.

Can I Remove Bloatware?

Generally speaking, the answer to this question is yes. However, the ease with which you can remove unwanted software depends on the software itself and the device it’s installed on. Unfortunately, bloatware is often specifically designed to be difficult to remove. Because of this, you may want to pick and choose which ones you expend the time and energy on getting rid of. The website Should I Remove It can help. It takes user comments and data about the most commonly removed programs to help you decide if the software is worth the battle of uninstalling. In terms of actually uninstalling it, a quick “how-to” Google search can usually turn up steps for removing any program.

How Can I Avoid Bloatware?

You may not be able to avoid bloatware altogether but you can reduce the impact it has on your devices. There are a few main ways of doing this:

  • Choose your device carefully. If you’re someone who is often annoyed by bloatware, take heed when buying new tech. Some manufacturers install more pre-existing software than others. Toshiba, for example, is notorious for its bloatware. Mac devices, on the other hand, often have fewer pre-installed programs to contend with.
  • Download from an original source. Not all bloatware is pre-installed by a device manufacturer. In fact, much of it is accidentally installed by a device user. If you click a bad link in a fake email or download a program from somewhere other than the original source, your download may be laced with bloatware that becomes difficult to remove down the road. By installing only from the original source, you reduce the risk of bloat.
  • Stay on top of bloat. The more bloat you have on your device, the slower and more invasive it becomes. By deleting unwanted programs as you notice them (rather than purging great groups of them at once), you keep your device in better shape for longer and make your experience with it better.

If you’re interested in a VPN to further protect your devices, you can find our safe, bloat-free download here.

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