4.0.3 / 2020-01-20
|Operating system||Microsoft Windows|
|Type||PDF printer/creator/ Adware|
|License||Mixed proprietary and open-source:|
PDFCreator is an application for converting documents into Portable Document Format (PDF) format on Microsoft Windows operating systems. It works by creating a virtual printer that prints to PDF files, and thereby allows practically any application to create PDF files by choosing to print from within the application and then printing to the PDFCreator printer.
The application is written in Microsoft C# and released to the public at no charge. It works with 64-bit and 32-bit Windows versions including Windows 10. The actual PDF generation is handled by Ghostscript, which is included in the setup packages.
Besides being installed as a virtual printer, PDFCreator can be associated with .ps files to manually convert PostScript to PDF format.
PDFCreator can convert to the following file formats: PDF (including PDF/A (1b and 2b) and PDF/X (X-3:2002, X-3:2003 and X-4)), PNG, JPEG, TIFF, TXT. It also allows to digitally sign PDF documents.
Between 2009 and 2013 the installation package included a closed-source browser toolbar that was considered by many users to be malicious software. Although technically an optional component, the opt-out procedure used to be a two-step process (prior to version 1.2.3), which was considered by many to be intentionally confusing. In addition to the spyware activity described below, the toolbar allowed one-click creation of PDFs from the current webpage and included a search tool. As of version 1.2.3, the opt-out procedure only required unchecking one checkbox during the installation process.
PDFCreator allows the user to disable printing, copying of text or images and modifying the original document. The user can also choose between two types of passwords, user and owner, to restrict PDF files in several ways. The former is required to open the PDF file, while the latter is necessary in order to change permissions and password. Encryption can be either 40-bit, compatible with Adobe Acrobat 3.0 or 4.0, or 128 bits for Acrobat 5.0 or higher.
Adware toolbar controversy
Starting with version 0.9.7 (February 2009), PDFCreator included an adware toolbar. The end-user-license agreement for PDFForge Toolbar by Spigot, Inc. (versions prior to 0.9.7 have a different, optional toolbar called "PDFCreator Toolbar"), states that the software will:
...modify your Microsoft Internet Explorer and/or Mozilla Firefox browser settings for the default search engine, address bar search, "DNS error" page, "404 error" page, and new tab page to facilitate more informative responses as determined by The Toolbar
Pdfforge, which created PDFCreator, wrote an FAQ entry regarding the toolbar that stated:
Is this spyware then? I think the main difference is if this is done unasked and undisclosed amount...Furthermore, the company works together with major Anti Ad- and Spyware companies to ensure, that it can be consider transparent and unharmful for the user. These include: Microsoft Windows, Anti-Spyware Webroot SpySweeper, Computer Associates Pest Patrol, PC Tools Spyware Doctor, Aluria Spyware Scanner and Spyware Eliminator.
Since that time various versions of PDFCreator have included adware toolbars and other software with the installer, which many virus scanners identify as problematic or undesired software.
In March 2012 the company announced that the toolbar had been discontinued with version 1.3.0. The company stated:
We have also removed the Toolbar from the setup, as it caused some confusion among the users. We are now trying a different advertising partner. This should reduce the problems the users had with the toolbar, as they felt that it was installed without their knowledge."
As of 23 March 2012, PDFCreator included the MyStart toolbar by Incredibar. On 13 June 2012, PDFCreator once again included another controversial bundled software package, which tests as spyware, called SweetIM. In July 2012 the project disabled reviews and ratings on its sourceforge repository.
On 30 August 2012, PDFCreator version 1.5.0 was released which included an installer for the "AVG Security Toolbar." There was an option to disable installation of the "AVG Security Toolbar, but it was not clearly identified. Furthermore, installation of PDFCreator required acceptance of the AVG EULA even when installation of the "AVG Security Toolbar" was disabled.
On 23 October 2012, PDFCreator version 1.5.1 was released  which includes an installer for iClaro Search. Compared to previous adware choices, once installed, iClaro cannot be removed using the "Add/Remove Programs" option.
On 14 January 2013, PDFCreator version 1.6.2 was released which includes an installer for Install Entrusted Toolbar. The setup screen for Install Entrusted Toolbar has a single option in black font. The description for Express (recommended) reads:
Install Entrusted Toolbar, set default search & new tabs to Entrusted Search, and set my homepage on my browsers to Entrusted Search
In October 2013, PDFCreator was stealthily installing more software, including Amazon's Internet Explorer toolbar, without notifying the user.
Both of these awards predate the inclusion of the contested spyware.
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