Bypassing the ‘forced’ Twinkl Toolbar Install

One thing I hate more than ad-ware bundled in software installations is authors who think they can stop it being optional and attempt to force these ad-ware installations on consumer machines.

My wife is a teacher at a primary school and she frequently uses the many resources available on the web-site Twinkl.
Not long ago, the authors of Twinkl decided that resources could no longer be downloaded without the new ‘Twinkl Toolbar’ (Annoying bar from now on).

The reasoning the authors put behind the installation of the Annoying bar is because of costs to maintain the website.

Problems with the Annoying bar

  • The authors of Twinkl attempt to justify the forced installation of the toolbar by stating the costs of maintaining the website. However they are making the problem worse for them selves as the toolbar sends several requests to the website every time the browser is launched – even if the user is not visiting the Twinkl website
  • The majority of schools will not be able to install the toolbar due to the requirement of administrator privileges on the machine they are using
  • The toolbar contacts external websites with usage statistics without your prior permission… see:

Twinkl Toolbar Usage

  • The toolbar automatically subscribes and attempts to incorporate it self with external weather forecasting services as well as Facebook – again, without prior knowledge of the user.

Getting around the Annoying bar installation

Fortunately, getting access to the resources on Twinkl without installing the Annoying bar is possible and quite easy

After sniffing the network traffic with Wireshark, I noticed that every time I launched the browser, the Annoying bar was attempting to contact the Twinkl page:

Twinkl Toolbar Session URL

So basically, visiting the URL below will tell Twinkl that you have the browser, even if you don’t:

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5 Responses to Bypassing the ‘forced’ Twinkl Toolbar Install

  1. Jon @ Twinkl says:

    Good morning!

    An interesting blog post and as an ex-techie myself, I enjoyed reading your investigations. Reminded me of some of my time working on a library system at my universtiy – but probably the less said about that the better!

    I completely appreciate your comments and also thank you for reiterating that you do support our work 100%. A phenominal amount of effort goes into what we do – there are no less than 5 of us working whenever we can find the time.

    The toolbar is used by over 250 millions people worldwide and is not classed as adware. You’ll be glad to hear that there are no restrictions for accessing resources within school and as a result, we’ve never had any problems in this front.

    We thought long and hard when we made the decision to use the toolbar, for a great deal of reasons. We’ve investigated all sorts of options including donations and charging and are firm believers that (unlike other sites), our community should not have to pay. We did discuss this with the community at the time and given the response, are sure that we made the right decision.

    The purpose of the toolbar is solely to provide enough finance for us to continue doing what we love doing and supporting our community. If we couldn’t rely on it as a source of income, the liklihood is that we couldn’t afford to survive and the site would likely have to be shut down.

    I’d be really interested in having a chat with you further if you did have any other suggestions as to how we can effectively cover our costs. Thank you again for taking the time to post – comments taken on board :)

    Jon

  2. E Mikail T says:

    Hi Jon,
    Thanks for taking the time out to read and reply to my post.

    You’ll be glad to hear that there are no restrictions for accessing resources within school and as a result, we’ve never had any problems in this front.

    Jon, I think you may have missed the point I was trying to make; school machines are typically under certain restrictions including not being able to install/remove software.
    See screenshot:

    As you can see, a teacher would not be able to access *any* Twinkl resources due to the requirement of administrator privileges.
    I would be surprised if you did not see a drop in the number of resource downloads on the website. Surely this is not what you guys want?

    We’ve investigated all sorts of options including donations and charging and are firm believers that (unlike other sites), our community should not have to pay

    Google Adwords? Timer delay with advertisements when attempting to download a resource? A donations page for those who *want* to donate to the project? Memberships with X benefits compared to no membership?

    There are so many ways of going about raising the funds required for keeping the project running; I believe going from zero (completely free resources with no strings attached) to ten (forcing software install) is an extremely bold and risky move.

    Out of interest; who is the web host and what kind of costs are we talking about here? There are always other ways to host a web-site if the costs are too high.
    Switching providers… Amazon Web Services (AWS)… even from your own bedroom ;)

  3. Jon @ Twinkl says:

    Morning again

    Many thanks for the email and comments again.

    * You’ll be glad to hear that there are no restrictions for accessing resources within school and as a result, we’ve never had any problems in this front. *

    You’ll be glad to hear that the toolbar requirements do not operate at all during the daytime, therefore all resources are completely open access. We realised fairly early on that this might have caused problems and wanted to avoid it at all costs. I completely agree that the last thing we want is for any restriction to be present on downloading resources, but equally we do need to balance this against the need to cover our costs – a fine balance I’m sure you’ll agree!

    * We’ve investigated all sorts of options including donations and charging and are firm believers that (unlike other sites), our community should not have to pay *

    We’ve tried all of the above and more – the fact is that it is extremely difficult (and this is to the extent that it does sometimes keep me up at night!) to make a steady level of income without charging for the resources. It would obviously be far easier for us to charge, but we decided that this was not part of what we are about and decided to take the slightly rockier road, that would ultimately mean that none of our community would have to pay.

    Steady income is the key here. Donations could work, but perhaps only for a time. Adwords is notoriously unreliable and frankly makes me feel rather ill(!) Our costs are varied, but as we do employ two people full time (and have our own dedicated server). Without going into too much detail, you can probably imagine how difficult it can be to sustain these costs on the income we do have. On the facts, I think what we’ve done is certainly bold, but the key point is that it avoids charging – perhaps more often than not at our expense!

    This said, we are absolutely passionate about what we do, so there is no question as to whether it is worth it :)

    Jon

  4. E Mikail T says:

    Hi Jon,
    Thanks for the comment.

    I was not aware that the restrictions were automatically lifted during the day time (school working hours) – this makes it a far less of a problem when accessing the resources from school.

    I can only imagine the costs involved with the administration of the site if you have a dedicated server as well as two full full time staff.

    I have little experience in the web-hosting/development field so the only things I can recommend are:

    - Make sure the site is as optimized as can be (pictures, javascript and other code) to help decrease bandwidth consumption and load times

    - See what sort of capacity you’re at on the dedicated server… if you’re only using 10% of the resources then you could potentially downgrade the hosting plan to save on costs

    Once again, I appreciate what you are doing and hope that your plans succeed in keeping the site alive for the foreseeable future :)

  5. Jon @ Twinkl says:

    Hello again!

    Thanks for the comments and suggestions – very much appreciated and we’ll certainly take them on board. It is helpful to be able to discuss these things and we’ll certainly continue to explore all avenues in order to keep the resources free :)

    Jon

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