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RealPlayer dinged by software watchdog group

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A software watchdog group has branded the two most recent versions of the RealPlayer media program "badware" because they don't give users adequate control over software components that are activated during installation.

RealNetworks, maker of the program, has pledged to fix the issue relating to its most recent version and says a separate issue in the earlier version has already been corrected.

StopBadware.org's objection with version 11 of the media program relates to the installation of a slimmed-down version of the Rhapsody Player, which is needed to play songs from a subscription music service that just happens to also be owned by RealNetworks. Thing is, when users uninstall RealPlayer, the Rhapsody software remains, and there's no easy way for average Joe users to know that.

"We believe that there is a strong responsibility on software producers that when a user consents to install something they know what they're consenting to," says Maxim Weinstein, manager of StopBadware.org. The failure to remove the Rhapsody Player "means now somebody has a piece of software on their computer that they didn't know about."

That, of course, has security implications. Given that security bugs are a fact of life, it's important users know for sure what programs are on their machines. More fundamentally, it comes down to this bedrock principle: People have the right to know exactly what is installed on their machines and to have an easy means of removing it.

RealNetworks spokesman Ryan Luckin issued a mea culpa, saying the RealPlayer's failure to uninstall the Rhapsody software was an oversight. He said engineers are working on an update that will fully remove the components.

According to Luckin, Version 11 is one of the only media players to natively run a wide variety of proprietary formats, including those based on Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Apple's QuickTime player. The Rhapsody software is installed so that RealPlayer can natively play music from the service seamlessly.

"RealPlayer is not doing anything malicious or putting users at risk," he said.

StopBadware's other beef with RealPlayer relates to version 10.5, which is still available Real's website. It turns on a feature known as Message Center, which pushes alerts concerning sports scores, videos and other content to a user's desk top. By default, all the options are turned on for users who don't register their personal information with RealNetworks.

Luckin said Message Center was substantially reworked in Version 11. ®

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