What is Adware?
The term 'adware' is used differently in various contexts. In general, it means advertising-supported software or applications. The advertisements can be integrated into the user interface of the software, or they can be bundled and delivered to you as a pop-up on the desktop during or after installation of the software.
History of Adware
Internet’s classic idealistic motive of being non-profit didn’t stay for long and hence this led to an ad-revolution, ever since Hotwired introduced it in Oct 1994 on their site. Next, it was the age of the well-known e-mail baddies, Spam, from Dec’94. . This was followed by Affiliate marketing’s rise to fame on internet, like Amazon.com. Later the tracking methodologies were introduced by ad providers to assist in sales and marketing methods, mainly using cookies, invading user’s privacy.
After all these marketing techniques on the web, next the advertisers started dealing with the software designers. This has been mainly implemented in freebie products, when developers understood that they could rake in some cash for their efforts and hosting charges, hence giving the software for “free” to the users, when donations and site ads couldn’t cover up their costs. Hence the product installers were tweaked to include ads, to become an ad-supported application, hence being widely referred to as ADWARE.
Why certain products are Adware?
The major reason why a product becomes an adware is to generate income for the author, done to recover the costs encountered during software development as well as to pay for hosting charges. Certain freeware as well as shareware’s turn into adware’s so that it remains free of cost or delivered to the user at a reduced price respectively.
Are all freeware’s adware? How does other freeware’s get its revenue?
Definitely not. Authors pay for their hosting charges from sponsored ads on the website and may receive generous donations from satisfied and willing customers, which inspires the author to continue developing the software. Certain other products that don't have any external sources of revenue are developed solely through the authors own commitment. Certain freebies, which may have been developed by a single author, but later turned Open-Source, are often developed in a public, collaborative manner.
Adware’s in most cases aren’t welcome by the users. They find it as an annoying distraction. But, that is the price that you have to pay for enjoying a program free of cost. In turn the revenue generated from this measure motivates the developer to keep working on the project and maintain it, as well as make it better through continued updates, which in turn benefits the end-users of the product, that is us!
A software behaves as an adware either during installation or after installation during program runtime. We have defined a software as an Adware/Ad-supported application, quite similar (but stricter) to the strict code of ethics that Softpedia follows in defining an Adware.
- Displays adbanners or other types of advertising material during its runtime. It may appear either on the program interface, or as a constant pop-up on the desktop/interface [Nagware]
- Attempts to change the homepage or default search engine on web browsers installed on the system.
- Offers to download or install software (eg:Product recommendations) or components(eg: toolbars) that the program does not require fully to function.
- At program startup/function, opens webpages featuring advertising or other similar income generating content.
- Creates desktop/start menu shortcuts for items unrelated to program's functionality.
Those softwares that falls into one or more of the above categories is deemed to be an adware.
Why is an adware bad?
Even though it’s a source of revenue for the developers, adware’s in general aren’t welcome by the users. Certain adware’s can make unexpected or unwanted modifications to the system, if care is not taken during or after installation. It could download “extra” undesirable products or components from the web, thus wasting your bandwidth, as well as install unwanted toolbars or hijack the homepage in web browsers. This does not stop here. Pop-up ads from the desktop or within the program interface are quite intrusive and very annoying
Good adware vs Bad adware
Even though software’s being an adware is considered to be bad, many useful programs stay afloat because of the revenue they get from these ads, hence letting the software to be distributed as free to the users. Good adware is installed on the system only after you give the permission to do so. Bad adware’s on the other hand, that installs itself on the system without the users permission and/or is camouflaged to appear safe, while monitoring the activities of the user. At certain times, these products cannot be un-installed from the system.
How to remain safe from Adware’s(good/bad) affecting your system?
- Install reputable software from safe download sources only.
- It’s a good practice to browse through the EULA in the installer wizard (especially for a less known software) and check what agreement you have made while installing the software! Think of it as signing an important legal document!
- Carefully check for opt-in and opt-out’s during installation process.
- Install a firewall and check for any strange traffic occurrences while a program is inactive. Block open net transitions.
- WinPatrol is a powerful system monitor that takes snapshot of your critical system resources, and alerts you to any changes that may occur without your knowledge.