The simplest and non-technical way to explain Bloatware is it’s like those ugly, negative thoughts on our mind, we don’t need these thoughts but it’s there and it’s hard to remove.
The technical way is, Bloatware is software that is pre-installed by OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) on devices like Windows and Android smartphones.
Bloatware came into existence after manufacturers decided it was time to make more money and push their new apps/software products through these devices, but people didn’t realize it was a form of “Spam” until it started slowing down and causing problems on the machines.
So let me take you through a few personal experiences as I explain to you what Bloatware is and what impact it has on our electronic devices.
What is Bloatware?
Bloatware, as the introduction laid out is a bunch of pre-installed applications or software that can slow our device down by repeatedly providing you with recommendations or by displaying advertisements. These are normally installed by the OEMs themselves in order to earn some extra revenue.
- My first encounter with bloatware took place in the year 2007 when my dad purchased a brand new PC. The PC came with Windows XP OS, which was fast and good for that time. But after a few days of usage, I realized my PC was slowing down.
- Back in 2007, the average PC took around 20-25 seconds to boot up (sometimes up to a minute if you had multiple programs installed), But after a few days it took up nearly 2-3 minutes. I wasn’t a tech wiz back then so I assumed what any sane person would assume, “It’s a VIRUS!!” but no it was something worse – Bloatware.
- My second encounter was in 2013 when I got my first Android Phone. I had purchased a Samsung Star phone which came bundled with some standard Samsung apps. I didn’t realize these were bloatware till I checked the Play Store to update my apps. Around 60-70 percent of the pre-installed apps were bloatware.
- One of the worst apps (and literally useless) was the Samsung Push Service App. The app was so mysterious that one can add it to the list of unknown mysteries, and if you readers are wondering if I’m the only one who felt this then please read a few of the comments below:
Types of Bloatware
Now you must be wondering, why are these software programs classified as they fall under one category – ”Junk”. Yes, well technically not all are useless (I’m actually having a hard time remembering important/necessary bloatware but nothing is coming up) but categorizing helps us understand them better.
So coming to the types of Bloatware, Broadly there are 4 types of Bloatware:
- Trialware – Trialware is the software pre-installed by your OEM. This includes the antivirus’s which come bundled with your laptop or PC. The best examples are Norton and McAfee antivirus
- Utilities – These are the software programs installed by default, which are meant to provide help but are mostly not required. Best examples are Acer Network Optimizer, Cyber-link PowerDVD, TOSHIBA Assist, etc.
- Adware – Adware is the worst of the worst, They are bundled with certain free software. The main purpose of adware is to run ads on webpages. The famous examples are the Fireball and Super-fish software.
- OEM Android Apps – These Android apps come under a separate category as they’re pre-installed by the OEMs. The best examples are Samsung Push Service (My favorite bloatware app ever), Mi Service, Mi Community, etc.
Is Bloatware Dangerous?
Yes, and it depends on the type of bloatware that is installed on the system.
The usual trial-ware and utilities look harmless but have a huge impact on the system. These unnecessary programs can run on boot-up and can significantly slow down the device.
As a test, you can compare the Nexus or even an Android One smartphone with a Samsung smartphone (with similar hardware) and compare the boot-up times. Samsung will take some time as there are tons of bloatware installed on the device.
The adware on the other hand comes with a different set of problems, On PC’s it installs annoying toolbars, changes the default homepage, and in some cases also installs spyware to collect user data.
Some Adware apps are also bundled with certain Android apps, These apps will run annoying ads and download other apps containing malware that can completely corrupt the software of a smartphone.
Few notable examples of the havoc caused by Bloatware:
Superfish was an advertising company which was known for its adware that was based on a visual search engine. Lenovo laptops were pre-installed with this software prior to 2015. The purpose of this software was to display ads on websites.
For example, if a user was searching for mobile phones, Superfish could do an image search using its algorithm and display ads for cheaper deals. It was thought to be completely harmless until the users realized that it could display ads even on encrypted sites, which means “Superfish” software was able to intercept the encrypted traffic which in the security world is called a “Man-in-a-middle” attack.
This was a serious problem as this software or hackers, in general, could easily hack into the system (thereby reading all banking details/logins, etc) by exploiting Superfish’s security flaw. Lenovo faced a huge backlash from the community in 2015.
Since then Lenovo has stopped shipping their laptops with Superfish, but the users who were affected by this had to completely backup the data and reinstall the OS once again as uninstalling the software didn’t have an impact.
HP TouchPoint Analytics Security Flaw
In 2019, security researchers from SafeBreach Labs discovered a major flaw in HP’s TouchPoint Analytics tool.
This software which is pre-installed in all HP laptops collects the diagnostics data about hardware performance and sends the information back to HP.
This software ran as an admin user and used these elevated rights to perform its activity. HP users who already hated this software (as it was suspected of being spyware) found a reason for their justification when it became known that malware could take advantage of this software to feed malicious code into the system by exploiting the admin-level permissions.
HP has fixed this problem after releasing an update (Users still hate it though).
Samsung keyboard (Also known as SwiftKey security flaw)
Samsung keyboards which are pre-installed on all Samsung smartphones had a huge security flaw back in 2015.
Security researchers from NowSecure had first published a report on this. According to this report, nearly 600 million devices were at risk as hackers could take advantage of an exploit present in the keyboard to get complete access (including photos, phone calls, etc) to the target device.
Users were unable to remove this app as Samsung bundled it as part of Android. Samsung finally released a fix after a few days.
These are just 3 examples of how a badly written piece of software can affect our devices. According to Duo Security, there are at least millions of PCs in the world that contain bloatware with at least one vulnerability (out of which majority belongs to high risk).
Most of these software programs also come from reputed companies like Dell, Acer, and Asus. On the other hand, an analysis done by Kryptowire security firm found that there are around 146 bugs present in all bloatware present on Android phones.
This means there are millions of smartphones that are still vulnerable to attacks. Luckily iPhones don’t have all these issues as all pre-installed Apps on the iPhone are made by Apple itself.
How to Remove Bloatware from Windows & Android
A simple way to check for any bloatware is by going through the list of installed software and identifying the ones which were not installed by you.
On the laptops or PCs which came with pre-installed Windows, the best way to remove bloatware is finding all software that starts with the OEM name.
For example, recently I purchased a new Acer Nitro 5 laptop which came with some pre-installed software (No surprise there). I could easily identify these as they had such obvious names as Acer Network Optimiser, Acer Configuration manager, Acer Quick Access, Acer collection, Acer I am gonna take up all your resources manager (I completely made the last one up in case you’re wondering), but yes I’m sure you got an idea.
Likewise, you can take this approach on your laptop or PC too.
As for uninstalling the software, you can refer to the following ways.
From the Start Menu
- Select Start icon
- Search for the program
- Right-click and select Uninstall
From the Settings Page
- Select Start icon
- Click on Settings > Apps > Apps & features
- Select the app you want to remove, and then select Uninstall.
Uninstall from the Control Panel
- Select Start Icon and search for Control Panel
- Click on Programs > Programs and Features.
- Right-Click on the program, you want to remove and select Uninstall or Uninstall/Change. Then follow the directions on the screen.
You can also use 3rd party tools like CCleaner and Revo Uninstaller to perform the same task.
I also recommend the PC Decrapifier tool to assist you in detecting the programs. It scans through the system and suggests a list of programs to uninstall based on things like startup impact, type, percentage of users that have uninstalled it, etc.
Sadly unlike Windows, Android doesn’t have an easy way to uninstall Apps as these apps are part of Android. The only way to uninstall it is by rooting your phone. Now in case if you’re ready to root your phone then do note that you’re voiding your warranty (Unless you’re using a smartphone manufactured by companies like Google, OnePlus, or Xiaomi which allow rooting).
In case your phone is not under warranty or you’re using the phones manufactured by the aforementioned companies, then the first step is to unlock the bootloader and install a root package. Bootloader unlocking and rooting can vary by the different manufacturers. The best way is to Google “<Device name> unlock bootloader” and “<Device name> root” and follow the set of instructions present on the site.
Once your device is rooted, Install Titanium Backup from the Play Store and follow these steps to remove the unwanted apps on your phone.
- Open Titanium Backup
- Search for the app using the magnifying glass icon
- Click on the app name and select Uninstall on the popup.
To summarize, there is no end to this as this a standard industry practice. Lenovo has promised that they will be shipping all Windows 10 devices Bloatware-free but it’s difficult for other OEMs to follow this as they make money out of this.
As a Windows user, the best way to avoid this is to uninstall all bloatware by following the above instructions or switch to the Bloatware-free version of Windows like the Signature Edition.
For Android users, the only way is to root the phone. The other alternative (also a costly one) is to switch to a phone like Nexus or Android One smartphones