Adware Vs Spyware


Adware, Spyware - What's The Difference, Really?

Spyware - everyone who uses a personal computer has heard of it. 

It's been aptly named by its opponents to induce the sort of aversion it merits. Spyware does just what it says it does - it spies. It's software that spies. More specifically - it monitors all activity on a user's computer and reports its findings to its creator. 

Why would someone do this? To make money, of course. The information gleaned by spyware programs tells big businesses - from product manufacturers to service providers - all sorts of valuable information on the demographics, surfing habits, interests and desires (among other crucial insights) of their target markets.

That's why spyware is itself such big business - it's everywhere. The data it collects is cyber-gold. And advertisers pay sacks of real gold to get their hands on some of it.

It's also an invasion of privacy - and that's why detecting and removing spyware has also become such a big business in its own right. Spyware has become one of cyberspace's top 3 Public Enemies (along with Viruses and Spam)

Every internet service provider, web hosting and/or email package you're likely to encounter these days touts free spyware detection, prevention, and removal software included with your purchase.

But not all spyware detection programs recognize all the myriad spyware out there, and new spyware is being developed and injected into cyberspace every single day, which is why 3rd party spyware detection, prevention, and removal products also abound.

In the face of such adversity, advertisers have tried to improve the image of what they invariably see as valuable tools that benefit the consumer by helping product and service providers to better meet their needs (nice spin, isn't it?).  They've given spyware a makeover.

Instead of planting little programs (spyware) on user's hard drive, advertisers realized they could collect all the same information directly from the user's web browser. The program could monitor search engine queries and pages visited and automatically select and deliver advertising (pop-ups, text links, etc.) accordingly.

This new beaut of a program does it all for them. There's no need for any human being to read, interpret, and analyze the data being collected. The program handles it all, right down placing on their desktop the most appropriate ad for that user (meaning the one mostly likely to be clicked by that user) at that moment in time.

Best of all (for them), since this newfangled program could no longer be perceived as "spying" per se, the antispyware community could not legitimately label it as spyware. It needed its own name - and so the term "Adware" was introduced into common parlance.

But it just doesn't have the same bite, the same sting as spyware. It's not as viscerally derogatory a moniker and, as such, consumers are not as quick to flush it out and destroy it at all costs (as they are with spyware).

The ensuing public relations battle hasn't helped any to make consumers aware of the invasion that adware (no different than that of spyware) is to their privacy, nor the burden that both programs are on people's computers. Advertisers have issued hundreds of press releases proclaiming the differences between adware and spyware.  Now that exact same argument - that all they're doing is finding ways to serve the consumers needs better on an individual basis - is harder to refute.

Never mind that the activity and the information collected is identical. Never mind that these programs are usually installed in secret, by taking advantage of security flaws in people's web browsers. Often, in fact, rootkits will be installed along with adware to better hide them. And redundant files will be installed along with them as well, so that if one program is ferreted out, another can activate and take its place.

Why go through so much trouble to hide something that's supposed to be a benefit to consumers? If this thing - adware - is supposed to be such a boon for us, then why not promote it as one of a product's top features?

Adware proponents go on to enlighten us as to how inserting their revered adware into other software products allows software publishers to provide those products for free.  That's how Gmail and Yahoo Mail stay free, for example. We implicitly agree to tolerate a certain amount of advertising in exchange for the free service. It's just like TV, right?

That depends on whether or not you're a Nielsen family - because if, like most of us, you're not then your TV isn't collecting information about you and your viewing habits. And when and if it ever does, that's when you should start being as concerned about your TV as you should be now about your computer.

If your computer takes longer to start up, if you discover strange, new toolbars in your browser that you didn't put there yourself, if you experience an unending barrage of pop-up advertisements, if your homepage appears different to you through no action of your own - some form or forms of spyware and/or adware are very likely the culprit.

And no amount of good P.R. is going to make you want it to stop any less.


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