What is Adware (Other Than Annoying)?

Adware is a type of software that is downloaded to your computer to show you advertisements. These advertisements may take many forms, from relatively noninvasive banners within a program, to very invasive pop-up windows that come up regardless of that you are doing in the foreground.

How Do You Get Adware on Your Computer?

You normally download adware without knowing about it, since no one usually wants to see advertisements whenever they run a program. So then how does adware get on your computer? Adware often piggybacks on other program downloads that you do want. For example, a lot of free software (freeware) programs have adware associated with them. When you download freeware you want, such as a peer-to-peer file-sharing program like Kazaa, you are also downloading adware that is packaged with it. That way, when you run the freeware, you are also running the adware in the background, which is creating advertisements on your computer.

Some examples of freeware that may contain adware are:

  • Advanced search engines
  • Instant news and weather updates
  • Computer games
  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing programs
  • Fun mouse pointers, desktop themes and backgrounds
  • Emoticons and smileys used in email
  • Applications that say they will improve the efficiency of your computer

Often, when you download the freeware that you actually want, it comes with a license agreement that you have to consent to before downloading the program. This license agreement often contains information about any adware that you are also downloading. In consenting to the license agreement of the freeware, you are in effect consenting to the download of the adware.

Some adware can be more malicious than the type that comes with freeware. It may trick you into installing it by creating a pop-up on your screen that looks like a Microsoft error or alert. You may have to clock "Ok" or "Cancel" to get rid on the alert, but in doing do you are actually inviting the adware to install on your computer.

Other malicious adware can exploit holes in your computer's security. Some websites have programs designed to install adware on your computer as you surf the internet by finding holes in your computer's security and installing the adware when you view their webpages. This happens without your consent.

Why Does Adware Exist?

Adware is used by the companies that design and provide freeware as a way of increasing revenue and supporting development of their programs. Advertising companies, the companies themselves, or other websites pay the freeware marketers to display their advertisements as a part of the program. This means that the individual downloading the program does not have to pay for it because the advertisers are in essence paying for it. That is why freeware programs are often said to be "sponsored".

Often, software programs supported by adware have adware-free counterparts that are the same as the freeware but without the advertisements. However, individuals have to pay a fee to download the adware-free version. Therefore, adware is often used to sponsor a free version of a type of software so that potential customers can try it out. Then if they like what they see, they can go on to buy the full, non-adware supported version.

The more malicious forms of adware not installed with freeware simply exist to promote their creator's website or product, or the website or product of the person employing the creator.

What Does Adware Do?

Adware runs in the background of your freeware programs to show you advertisements when you use that program. Depending on the invasiveness of the adware it can sometimes even run in the background of your computer itself to show you advertisements on your desktop even when you are not using the program you originally downloaded the adware with.

Sometimes adware will monitor the sites you visit and your computer habits to create a user profile. This user profile will be used to tailor the advertisements you see to your taste or narrow search results to fit your profile. One of the dangers of adware is that the information it collects about you may not always be limited to statistics relating to your consumer preferences, and sometimes this information can be sold to third parties. What exactly the adware is monitoring about you and where this information goes is sometimes explained in the user agreement you consent to when you download the freeware, but sometimes it is not.

Adware can also affect the way your computer works more generally, such as slowing your system down and making your system unstable. For this reason, many people choose to remove adware and prevent adware from coming onto their computers in the future, even if the advertisements themselves don't necessarily bother them. You may want to learn about signs your computer is affected by adware so that you can judge whether keeping this type of program is worth it for you.

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