Last week, my AT&T HTC One received an update to Android 4.4 KitKat. Of course, I went ahead with the installation, not wanting to miss out on the new features and interface improvements in the latest version.
Shortly after installing the update, my excitement turned to mild annoyance as I realized AT&T had used KitKat as an opportunity to deliver a fresh batch of bloatware.
The worst offender was AT&T’s “Browser Bar,” which pops up with links to various sites and services while you’re browsing the Internet. Previously, the Browser Bar only appeared in the HTC One’s stock browser. The update allows it to weasel its way into other browsers, such as Google Chrome.
I wasn’t aware of this until I started using Chrome after the update, and received a notification suggesting that I activate the Browser Bar. This notification — I regret not taking a screenshot — didn’t make clear whether it was a feature of Chrome or a third-party add-on. It didn’t mention AT&T at all. While I figured something fishy was going on, I tapped on the notification in search of more information.
Jared Newman for TIME
Instead of telling me more, the Browser Bar simply activated itself and sent me to its settings menu. Only after digging through the settings did I confirm that this was an AT&T add-on, produced by SkyFire, and that it was also collecting anonymous usage data. The settings for the Browser Bar had also moved out of the stock browser and into HTC’s main settings menu.
The good news is that the Browser Bar is easy to deactivate through its settings menu. You can also disable it completely by going to Settings > Apps > All > Browser Bar and pressing “Disable.” However, disabling won’t scrub the Browser Bar from the HTC One’s settings menu. It just ensures that nothing happens when you tap on it.
This wasn’t the only bit of bloatware that AT&T added to the HTC One as part of Android 4.4 KitKat. AT&T also took the liberty of installing Beats Music. At least Beats is a legitimate service, rather than a junky browser toolbar, but as a happy Rdio subscriber, I have no interest in leaving Beats Music on my phone. Unfortunately the app can only be disabled, not uninstalled.
While I’m glad HTC and AT&T are continuing to update the One, the quiet installation of new bloatware leaves a sour taste. The Browser Bar in particular reminds me of how Java would sneak the Ask.com toolbar onto Windows PCs as part of routine updates. It’s an underhanded thing to do, and yet another strike against the Android update process.
I’ve reached out to AT&T to find out of any other phones are getting the new Browser Bar as part of the update to Android 4.4, but haven’t heard back. If anyone has spotted it, let me know.
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