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RealPlayer Labeled 'Badware'

An industry-academia group designed to raise public awareness about software that violates fair information and privacy practices has labeled recent versions of RealPlayer video streaming software as "badware," charging that the software surreptitiously installs pop-up ad serving software as well as the Rhapsody media player engine.

real.jpg issued an alert about two software titles from RealNetworks - RealPlayer 10.5 and RealPlayer 11, saying each violated the group's badware guidelines.

RP10.5 fails to alert the user that its "Message Center" feature -- which is pitched as a way to keep the user up-to-date on security patches -- will pop up ads from the system tray if the user doesn't register the application.

RealPlayer 11 earned the badware mark because it installs (as an ActiveX control) the Rhapsody Player Engine without notifying the user, the report notes. In addition, when the user uninstalls RealPlayer, the Rhapsody player is left behind.

Stopbadware is a collaboration between Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Oxford University's Oxford Internet Institute, with support from companies like Google, Lenovo, and Sun Microsystems.

Typically, Google will flag Web sites that serve applications labeled as badware, placing a link below every badware site returned in a Google search that reads: "This site may harm your computer." But they have not yet done so with RealNetwork, despite the kinds of marketing tactics described in this Stop Badware alert.

John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center and a professor of Internet law at Harvard, said the RealNetworks company has a history of operating at the margins of consumer privacy issues. "What was clear to us was that [RealPlayer] 10.5 and 11 went over what was, to us, a clear line."

Palfrey said Google was unlikely to list RealMedia's site as badware, however: that classification, he noted, was generally reserved for sites that try to install unwanted or malicious software when a person merely visits the site.

Ryan Luckin, public relations manager for RealNetworks, took issue with portions of the report, saying while the company still supports 10.5, it no longer distributes it. Further, Luckin said, RP11 disables the Message Center by default. He said that RealMedia would consider changing its uninstaller to remove Rhapsody in future versions of RealPlayer, though he added that RP11 was likely to remain the default player available on its site for "a good chunk of time."

All of this may come as little surprise to anyone who has installed RealPlayer on account of some video they needed to watch that wouldn't render in any other media player, only to be pestered with constant pop-up ads that gobble up system resources.

But there are alternatives. If you just need to hear streaming Real audio, the free and excellent VLC Media Player can take care of that for you. For Windows users looking for a free alternative to render Real video content, a package called "Real Alternative" should do the trick. Real Alternative includes the codec needed to play Real video content, as well as the lightweight Media Player Classic. I have relied on this latter package to be my DVD player of choice on my main PC for the past several years now, and it works great.

Anyone else know of other alternatives for playing Real video files?

By Brian Krebs  |  January 31, 2008; 1:23 PM ET
Categories:  Latest Warnings , Safety Tips  
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It is for this very reason that I do not install RealPlayer on any of my computers. That, and the fact not much content requires RealPlayer anymore. Why can't they just tell people what components they are trying to install?

Posted by: blbower | January 31, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

RealPlayer has been 'badware' or 'suckware' for quite some time.

But can Quicktime be added to the list because it seems to get lonely and wants to install iTunes at every turn? Whenever an update hits, I update and then remove the iTunes garbage that I don't want/need.

Posted by: Kim | January 31, 2008 4:09 PM | Report abuse

I have Real Player 10.5. I got it because some of Amazon's music clips were not available in Windows Media Player format. I have been thinking about removing it for some time. Now I will.
Can I trust the Real Player uninstall or should I use Start > Control Panel > Add remove programs?

Posted by: Frank C | January 31, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone have any insight on the legality or "Real Alternative" as mentioned in this article? When I last investigated it for my users, I was left with impression that it violates Real's EULA. I have avoided it based on it's shaky legal standing.

Posted by: Travis | January 31, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Everything like Mediaplayer Classic can handle real media. I have installed Realplayer on my computer just in case, but I never use it. The main reason I don't like it is because it makes me feel insecure, even I have disabled the message center and other annoying stuff.

Posted by: Simon | January 31, 2008 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Frank C:

The two methods are the exact same thing. Almost any software that uses an installer will leave tidbits behind on the disk and the windows registry.

Posted by: timewasting | January 31, 2008 6:25 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Jack Reed | January 31, 2008 9:11 PM | Report abuse

O.K., thanks for the recommendation on VLC Media Player.
My machine came with Real 10.5 installed.
Yes, it is Badware.
I have a question. There is a radio station the archives of which I often enjoy (broadcasts that are done while I sleep).
Now, if I click on any given hour to listen, it automatically plays the program with RealPlayer, no option given. How do I manage to play the programs with VLC Media Player ?

Posted by: csavargo | January 31, 2008 10:32 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, forgot to add : using Windows XP Home

Posted by: csavargo | January 31, 2008 10:36 PM | Report abuse

RealPlayer 10.5 isn't that bad, you just have to be savvy enough to STOMP the Message Center into the ground when it comes up, and then set the preferences so that it doesn't come up. It still seems to try to come alive every once and a while on certain systems, though.

Posted by: TLE | January 31, 2008 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Another strategy is simply to leave Microslop behind, go with Kubuntu Linux, and use the magnificent media player Amarok, which destroys RealPlayer and Windows Media, and is also much better than WinAmp. Trivial to burn CDs, looks up Wikipedia entries on artists, auto-grabs lyrics if you ask it to, and of course handles Shoutcast

Posted by: Chuck Dupree | February 1, 2008 5:04 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the poster who suggests adding Quicktime to the list. Not as annoying as Real, but definitely suckware.

Posted by: Robert17 | February 1, 2008 6:33 AM | Report abuse

Brian (or anyone), I just recently installed VLC mediaplayer, but when I go to a National Public Radio site to listen to items, I can't. What do I need to do to hear real audio files off the NPR site or other sites? Do I need to change setting in VLC or do I need to use the "Real Alternative" you mentioned? You only mention VLC with regard to Real video.

Posted by: M in CT | February 1, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I also agree that Quicktime should also be considered 'badware' because it installs iTunes without the user being aware of what is going on.

Posted by: BobOran | February 1, 2008 12:55 PM | Report abuse

I wonder... When a website subjects me to an ad via a timed redirect or a pop-up is that considered badware?

Posted by: calmerthanyouare | February 1, 2008 4:55 PM | Report abuse

"Now, if I click on any given hour to listen, it automatically plays the program with RealPlayer, no option given. How do I manage to play the programs with VLC Media Player ?"

Probably depends on what your browser is configured to use. In Firefox: Edit>Preferences>Content>File Types>Manage.

Posted by: FreewheelinFrank | February 1, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

@M in CT: Did you just want to listen to NPR, or a special NPR station locally? You can listen to a live stream of NPR using your favorite browser, by clicking on the "24 hour program stream" link at the top of this page:

Posted by: Bk | February 1, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse


I don't know which version of Firefox you have, but in mine ( running on XP SP2) you should look at the menu bar and click Tools »Options... »Content; then look for the File Types box and click Manage. This displays a somewhat daunting list of filetypes and what Firefox should do with each of them. It helps if you know what filetypes you want to play.

Posted by: Solo Owl | February 1, 2008 9:23 PM | Report abuse

I still use Real Player 8 (with Real Jukebox2) and have no 'issues'. I think it can still be found archived online, but be careful where you DL it from! I just keep copying it from machine to machine as I've upgraded through the years. (Win95 to XP Pro)

Posted by: Raoul | February 1, 2008 9:32 PM | Report abuse

RealPlayer has always been on the scummy side of ethics. When I first tried it many years ago, it caused Norton Windows Doctor to crash. According to Symantec, RealPlayer created a Registry entry larger than 64 kilobytes, and Windows Doctor choked on this. Faced with a choice between using Norton Utilities and keeping RealPlayer, I uninstalled RealPlayer.

Why would anybody need a 64-kilobyte Registry value? From independent sources I learned that early versions of RealPlayer gathered up all the user identification, and data about installed software, it could find on your machine, stored them in the Registry, and uploaded the data for marketing purposes. There was no disclosure or opt out. I felt violated.

About a year ago I tried RealPlayer again (just to play videos on It came with so much hard sell for their services &c, that it did not last long. I uninstalled Apple QuickTime for the same reason. I may give Windows Media Player the heave ho, too.

At the moment I am using VLC Media Player. It does not always play DVDs on all machines, but it lacks the e-store and the pushy hard sell.

Posted by: Solo Owl | February 1, 2008 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Solo Owl, now ram files are automatically opened with VLC.
My new question : VLC does not seem to have
an indication how far into the piece (time) it is when playing. With Real you could see that by putting the cursor on the position dot.
Also, with Real one could drag the position dot along the progression line and it would immediately restart (well, maybe a few seconds of buffering time) playing at the new position. Handy for listening to a certain section on the recording. VLC does not seem to have this capability.
Are these features indeed missing, or is it just I who cannot find them?

Posted by: csavargo | February 1, 2008 10:18 PM | Report abuse

So I need to uninstall RealPlayer and the Rhapsody engine separately via Add/Remove Programs?

The Rhapsody engine only shows in Add/Remove, isn't listed in All Programs.

Posted by: MayFran | February 2, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse


I don't know which version of Firefox you have, but in mine ( running on XP SP2) you should look at the menu bar and click Tools »Options... »Content; then look for the File Types box and click Manage. This displays a somewhat daunting list of filetypes and what Firefox should do with each of them. It helps if you know what filetypes you want to play."

Yep. That's the way in XP: I was using running on Ubuntu, and hadn't noticed the menus were different.

Posted by: FreewheelinFrank | February 2, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Of course, you aren't just listening to the wind whistle between your ears. You can't blame Microsoft, Real, and Apple for your problems. They're just middlemen. The true villain, the public enemy that makes music-player badware an aching problem, is the audio producer. The artist, whose art you treasure, turns his back on you and issues the art in one of those proprietary media formats.

Instead of bewailing the middlemen, why not bypass them? "Play ogg," advises the Free Software Foundation ( ".ogg" is an open, legally unencumbered format. No company owns the rights. You can choose any hardware, any player you like.

But the decision still rests with the audio producers, many of whom still need to be convinced to make their work available in an open format.

Posted by: Turnip | February 2, 2008 10:44 PM | Report abuse

RealPlayer literally hijacks your system from the moment you install it. It writes entries into the registry that are difficult to remove, sets itself as the default player for all media filetypes and writes its entry into the Startup Program menu. I never use it.

Posted by: T1 Mike | February 3, 2008 12:50 AM | Report abuse

download the meagpack. it is legal.

Posted by: RPsux | February 3, 2008 3:21 PM | Report abuse

RealPlayer has always been badware. I don't remember when I first found that out, but it would have years, not weeks ago, why's it taken this long for these guys to tag it as such?


Posted by: David Bradley | February 4, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Right that's the amazing thing. It's been years since I've used real player because it was bad-ware then and it's bad-ware now. Thanks for letting us tech savvy people know something that we already knew.

Posted by: stgenerations | February 5, 2008 3:13 PM | Report abuse

> Does anyone have any insight on the legality or "Real Alternative" as mentioned in this article? When I last investigated it for my users, I was left with impression that it violates Real's EULA. I have avoided it based on it's shaky legal standing.

IF you acquire the codec and install it to the player you anticipate on using as your default, he EULA shouldn't matter. Afterall, you're not using Real applications and therefore not subject to their EULA. You've agreed to nothing.

Additionally, for the people griping about Quicktime you are given the option to install iTunes (or at least notified of its presence). Badware does not give you such an option. It places the apps without your consent. Although I find the integration of Quicktime w/ iTunes to be beneficial, you aren't obligated to use Apple's music browser/organizer.

Posted by: barcodedmaggot | February 6, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

The statement by Ryan Luckin, public relations manager for RealNetworks " Further, Luckin said, RP11 disables the Message Center by default." yes he is right it does so that, what he has neglected to say is that if you turn it off you will not recieve any notices for any Security patches or updates that RealPlayer may require. So his statement is a crock, hard to opt out of something that you know will leave you you are forced to basically have their real message center you can receiev their patches and their ad's!

Posted by: DaSplatMAN | February 12, 2008 8:26 AM | Report abuse

If I clicked on the installer (the .exe file) for RealPlayer 11, and it ran for a while, and when it asked me to sign the agreement, I clicked "cancel," has any of the damage, say, to the registry, been incurred?

I could not fine Rhapsody Player Engine in the Add/Remove program, and I believe the installation has not gone through?

Many thanks!

Posted by: Debbie | February 23, 2008 4:21 AM | Report abuse

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