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I often find myself in a position where I must locate software to perform a niche task of some sort, and that inevitably means running lots of searches to discover available programs and research the merits of each. Unfortunately, I find that about 70% of my total “software hunting” time is spent constructing elaborate searches to try to weed out deceptive, bait-and-switch, scammy sounding website sentences that attempt to lure people seeking a free software program into installing a program that is not free at all and therefore isn’t within the criteria that the user is looking for.

Let’s say we need to extract email from an Outlook OST file (basically a PST-like file format used only for Exchange servers, and not readable as a PST file). The user wants to get email from the OST file, but Outlook only allows opening PST files, so naturally we look for something like “OST to PST free” online. Lo and behold, we have this program pop up from Softpedia:

Recover Data for OST to PST Free Download – Softpedia

Is this what we’re looking for? It says “free” in the title, and it says it recovers OST files to PST format. Sounds perfect! Well, perfect except for the line underneath it in the search results which tips us off on the truth behind the “free download” scam:

Rating: 4 – ‎12 votes – ‎$99.00 – ‎Windows – ‎Utilities/Tools

Oh.

So it’s a “free” program that costs nearly $100 to purchase. Apparently we have different definitions of what constitutes “free.”

But wait! It’s not a “free program,” it’s a “FREE DOWNLOAD.” As in, you pay nothing for the ability to download it…because it’s so obvious that anyone looking for the word “free” is worried about whether or not they have to pay to download it, right?

Look, you scummy marketing douche rockets, we see what you’re doing there, and we really don’t like it. The real purpose of the phrase “FREE DOWNLOAD” is not to emphasize the fact that the download itself doesn’t cost anything. The goons that use this phrase are attempting to do two equally deceptive things by tacking it onto their not-free software download pages:

  1. Lure in people seeking free stuff (using the search term “FREE”) to trick them into looking at their paid stuff, convincing them to download it (see next point) and then preying on the effort they’ve invested already to get them to shell out their credit card; and
  2. Playing a psychological trick in the process where the downloading person sees the word “FREE” and is convinced that they’re acquiring a solution that won’t cost any money.

Abuse of the term “free” will never end, so it pays to be vigilant and cautious when looking for anything which is truly free. I still say that the people who use this type of trickery are lousy people, and I for one will not ever download (and especially not pay for) any such software. A “free trial” is one thing, but they knew what they were doing with that “free download” garbage, and we shouldn’t allow it to work on us. Vote with your dollars: if you’re going to end up paying for something, make sure it’s not marketed deceptively first.

(Coincidentally, I was looking for WMV file editing software right after typing this, and Wondershare Video Editor came up with both “FREE DOWNLOAD” and “[checkmark-shield icon] SECURE DOWNLOAD” in a blog post of theirs with obviously planted comments at the bottom; visiting their normal site reveals that the software is a free trial and actually costs $40. For obvious reasons, WonderShare will never see a dime of my money.)

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