Y Combinator is known for helping fund great ideas like Dropbox or Reddit, and many other successful projects have gotten their start there as well. But users likely won't be as happy about one of the prestigious startup incubator's recent graduates: a company based around the venerable practice of helping software makers bundle extra (and often unwanted) apps with their installers.
InstallMonetizer, which boasts backing from not only Y Combinator but venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz and incubator Digital Garage, has a laudable goal: help software developers make money off their installs. Unfortunately, it does so by combining the user tracking of advertising networks with the annoyance of crapware packagers, asking users to install software or toolbars they'd generally never use otherwise while tracking location and (according to its site) MAC information from those who install it. Its partners include AOL and Babylon, whose toolbars many of us have had to remove after an ill-placed click docked them in our browsers.
"A practice that has undermined and continues to undermine the credibility of the Windows app ecosystem."
The company has been around for a while, but it was recently featured on TechCrunch after being part of Y Combinator's Winter 2012 class. From there, developer Long Zheng picked up on it, accusing it of "funding the future of spam in Windows." While Zheng sympathizes with software makers, his problems with InstallMonetizer are many: trying to sneak in extra software, he says, undermines the whole experience, and it's increasingly being circumvented by app stores like those on Windows 8. "It’s genuinely disappointing to see such respected and influential people and companies put their weight behind a practice that has undermined and continues to undermine the credibility of the Windows app ecosystem," he writes.
Not everything Y Combinator funds is geared towards consumers, and its graduates include things like advertising networks. There's also no reason to believe InstallMonetizer is anything but safe and fairly responsible, though collecting identifiers like MAC addresses is a little worrisome — software monetization is difficult, and everything from setting a price to using an advertising network poses its own set of problems. But making an improved version of toolbar install systems doesn't change the fact that they're one of the most annoying parts of desktop software downloads, and it's hard to see a lot of value in backing them.