Are there any warning signs that a download might be spyware or that my personal information will be sold?
Always read the Privacy Statement of a website before submitting personal info (that means registering software too). They won’t come out and say, “Hey, we’ll be selling your email address to spammers!” but you will find statements like…
“we may share information with third parties so that they can inform you and your family about their products, which might be of interest to you.”
How nice of them. These “third parties” usually consist of anyone with a check book.
As for downloads, read the EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) especially with free downloads. This will tell you what you must give up in exchange for something “free”. It might just be targeted pop-ups based on your browsing habits, or it could be that they log your IP address and more scary stuff. You may end up giving permission for intrusive and often unstable adware to be installed on your PC.
Here’s an example…
“The web server may maintain customary records of the user’s IP address, the date and time of access, and will record the search query made by the user for the purpose of generating aggregate search statistics.”
Technically, if they spell it out (even in a cryptic, legalese way) in the Privacy Statement or EULA and you don’t read it, then there’s no way you can complain. Some will tell you straight out, “I further understand that search tool bar will be added to my web browser which will remain visible as long as the software is installed and agree that I wish to use your search engine for my web browsers default error page… I understand that, by accepting these terms and conditions, bookmarks will be added to my favorites….In order for us to keep this software free we will open advertisements while you surf the web.”
I know, it stinks, but such is life on the web.