The Shareware Awards Scam

This is just hilarious: Andy Brice, a UK-based software developer started to get suspicious about the high number of awards displayed on software download sites, so he created a little experiment.

He created a new “product”: a text file with the words ” this program does nothing at all ” repeated a few times and then renamed as an .exe. He even declared the same on the screenprint submitted to shareware sites. That was not enough to prevent several sites from awarding him with “5 stars”. Apparently these awards are handed out left and right, hoping that subitters would display the badges with a backlink to the originating site. Andy’s conclusion:

The truth is that many download sites are just electronic dung heaps, using fake awards, dubious SEO and content misappropriated from PAD files in a pathetic attempt to make a few dollars from Google Adwords.

Here’s the collection of awards awardmestars.exe “earned” so far:

16 and counting. Well, perhaps it stops now, that Andy “outed” himself. Or who knows, given the attention level site owners demonstrated, they hardly read blogs.

Next time you download unknown shareware, you may want to think of just how safe it could be – apparently ratings mean nothing.

Additional reading: Google Blogoscoped, JD on EP , Christopher Null , Things That, Global Nerdy.


  1. There was a golden age of shareware, but now it's gone; it's dead. It has been so for quite sometime, I just didn't want to believe it was. From unscrupulous authors that 'pretty up' and repackage free source code, to even more unscrupulous 'distributors' that are eager to fill their ad linked pocket. Wasn't shareware supposed to be the distribution medium on itself; a try before you buy, a word of mouth marketing campaign for struggling programmer's ventures. These sites are just ad spam galore. I can condone a magazine with an actual media; I might even let it slide for a enhanced enough product; ie cheap, and good enough to pay for… but this sites are just pathetic, with likewise offerings. They're not even trying to dissimule. The more 'respected' ones are just the lackeys of the big boys' little bros' enterprises. Nowadays is all a scam; the line between commercial and shareware has disappeared. Furthermore, their practices are not that much different that malware ridden sites. Eg, the suppa-duppa-anti-spyware-20XX, that either tries to install itself first handedly, or at the very least there's a banner ad prominently displayed on the page. The program 'works' for a while, a kind of expiration date, and then it start to annoyingly informs you that you need to buy the full version; if you're stupid enough to pay with your own credit card, not only will you have to account for the reg code itself, but the 'mysteriously' emptied of it all. If it's not that, then there's the ultra-pristine-registry-rub-a-dubber; or something else. That 'free' to download program, sure is gonna cost you a lot more down the line. Bottomline; don't waste your time with most shareware sites; even if they also seem to distribute 'freeware'; no matter how 'legit' they seem. There's only a handful of truly respected sites left; but obv can't recommend those either. If you're a struggling developer, then I'm sorry to inform you that unless you have no morals, there's nothing there for you; otherwise submit all you like… and better start thinking in something alternative, maybe in the lines of donationware; or better yet, doing something else altogether. Finally, I know this is kind of necro and tl;dr; yet, I had to…

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  3. Of course, this doesn’t mean all download/shareware sites were created equal.

    I’ve been building my own site for a few years now. The truth is that I don’t have anywhere near the resources needed to manually download each of my 40,000 listings, install them, and try them out. Nor would I be interested in the viruses invariably get installed on that computer as a result.

    Does this mean I send out 5-star awards to all the vendors? No, that’s clearly not right and I won’t be doing it. But, like everyone else, I need to find ways to promote my site and what I can do is automate my system to download each file and run multiple virus scans on them. I can then produce a virus-free award and pass that out, hoping the vendors will backlink to my site.

    In my view, this does provide a real value, and I’m not misleading anyone. So it’s no surprise that this is what a lot of other download sites are now doing.

    Running a site like mine takes an enormous amount of time and expense and the spammers and hackers are worse than ever. And, so far, the site is a long way from paying even for hosting. So, yes, there’s a lot of crap out there, but let’s keep things in perspective and not paint all download sites with the same brush.

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