Friday, January 10, 2014

Why browser tool-bars are a bad idea

The majority of computers that my customer bring to me to speed up usually have a two or more browser tool-bars installed.  Their internet browsing is slow, network connections are unstable, and they get unwanted ads pop-up, sometimes without a browser windows open.  Sound like your PC?

So what is a tool-bar?  Browser tool-bars are those "helpful" little browser add-on's that usually reside just below the URL bar (address bar).  They usually contain a search box and some other supposedly useful tools. They are sometimes supplied by companies like Google, Bing, Yahoo or maybe your Anti-virus program, but not always. Seems harmless enough right?  Read on.

So here is why I dislike the use of browser tool-bars.

First off, they slow down your PC.  If you have an older computer that meets the minimum requirements, it can really put a drag on system performance.  Higher performance machine may not even notice a performance hit, but it is still a performance degradation.

Second, they spy on you!  That's right, most of these tool-bars report back to the maker of the toolbar the web addresses that you visit.  How often you visit, what you click on, the categories of items searched for etc.  This is how the search engines like Google and Yahoo are able to display an advertisement on a web page that is curiously directly related to your current or most recent shopping tip on the web.  This is the most useful kind of information to these companies.  is allows them to gather your web browsing habits and interests.  And you thought it was just the NSA?  Everyone wants to know what you do on the internet.

Thirdly, not all tool-bars are as unobtrusive as the tool-bars supplied by Bing or Google.  Some of these tool-bars can also steal your usernames and passwords on web sites like your banks web site.  any program or add-on that runs with in the browser window, typically has access to all of the information that is in the browser window.  That includes all of the fields that you would fill out when entering your payment information at check out! Scary!  But wait a minute! My browser address bar has the https:// prefix, so I am OK, right?  Not from a toolbar.  That https:// is the connection between you and the server you are connected to.  The page that is displayed on the screen is still readable by the toolbar.  

So what do you do? How do you remove the toolbar?  The first place to start is in the control panel.  If you are still using XP (and you shouldn't be) it will be in the Add/Remove programs applet, for Vista and Windows 7, it will be listed under programs and features.  For those of us on Windows 8, from the start screen, swipe up, then go all the way to the right and you will see the control panel icon. Tap it and then open the programs and features applet.

When you are installing a program that you got from the internet,  go slowly through the install process.  look for that one screen that will as you to install the "free" toolbar from "x",  un-check the boxes and continue.  You will be happier, your browsing will be safer, and will have less need for guys like me to fix up and speed up you PC.