Adware or Spyware?

Posted By BrokenClaw on February 8, 2008

Also read about Hardware, Software, and other Ware.


Adware is a type of software that is part of some other software application, designed to display advertisements via the Web. In most cases, the adware is included in free software packages to offset the costs to the program developer. In other words, you get the software for free, but you have to view (or put up with) the ads displayed whenever you use it. Of course, you could also look at it from the other side: that the free software is developed for the express purpose of selling adware space.

This class of software is typically web applications that sit on your desktop and run automatically when you turn on your computer, such as weather updates, instant messagers, download helpers, system monitors, etc. In general, most of these desktop programs add dubious value to your computing experience. Software packages that offer you the option of a free ad-supported version or a paid ad-free version are probably more useful.

In the best-case scenario, adware does what it says and just serves advertisements to pay for the service. In the worst-case scenario, it contains spyware or malware.

Adware should not be confused with advertising which is embedded on webpages. Other than merchant sites like eBay, Amazon, and BestBuy, every commercial website uses web advertising to generate revenue.


Spyware is web software that is installed on your computer, with or without your permission, which collects information from your computer about you, your computer, and/or your web surfing habits. One way that spyware gets installed is as a secondary program attached to an application that you purposely installed.

For example, the fine print in your intended software package, which you agree to by clicking the install button, includes a clause which gives the company the right to spy on you, although they don’t actually use the word spy. This agreement is a contract, often called an End-User License Agreement (abbreviated EULA and sometimes pronounced yu-la), or simply Terms of Use. Of course, they count on the fact that most people just skip right through it without reading the fine print.

The EULA is a legal contract which grants a license to the user to use the software and indemnifies the software provider against damages resulting from its use. It is a normal part of the software business. However, there have been instances where the EULA was deemed unreasonable and/or deceptive.

Spyware is often attached to free software downloads that pop up as adware, which promise to enhance your web surfing experience with little widgets like weather information, faster surfing, or even ad-blocking!


Malware is the term used to describe any (malicious) web software that causes actual harm to your computer and computing experience. Computer viruses and worms are types of malware, but other types simply get copied to your hard drive to do specific things. For example, it might change your security settings in your operating system to allow more malware into your computer. Once it has control, it can use your computer to do all sorts of nefarious activity on the Internet.

A more direct result is that malware has been known to hijack your home page, so whenever you open your browser, you get sent to their website. Even if you manually reset your homepage, the malware will hijack it right back. It might install a new toolbar in your browser, or hijack your current toolbar, or mess with your search results. All of these tactics are designed to get you to go to websites that you, or anyone in your home, would not normally visit.

Read more on the dark side of advertising in Deceptive Ad Boxes.


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