Adware is software that is distributed without charge in exchange for the user's consent to view advertisements. The name "adware" is a portmanteau of the words "advertisement" and "software". As computer users turn to FOSS or pirate software to reduce costs, many commercial software vendors are searching for new ways to profit from their efforts while reducing the monetary cost to the consumer. Adware is frequently a viable solution, as the consumer has no monetary expense yet the software vendor gets paid for his work. Additionally, many adware titles have premium versions available, in which the user pays the vendor in exchange for removal of the advertisements. However, many vendors have removed such options from their adware offerings as users can crack these premium versions, essentially removing the advertisements and thus neutralizing any form of compensation to the software vendor. Other solutions, such as subscription-based software usage, are often not viable for technical reasons or for invasion of user's privacy.
The terms adware and malware are often confused, with many computer users believing that all adware is malware. This is primarily because in order to display advertisements, the software must contact a server to download new or updated advertisements. Many firewalls recognise that Internet access is not a primary function of the software, and alert the user to suspicious activity. Additionally, some adware titles may aggregate user's work habits in order to display relevant advertisements. This may be considered spyware, even though the user must explicitly agree to this option when installing the software and often has the option of disabling usage tracking. As relatively few users read EULAs or other software licenses, few users of these programs realize that this activity is completely consensual and configurable. That said, there do exist some adware titles that do not disclose the fact that they track usage and work habits. These few titles are in fact spyware.
The confusion between adware and spyware is often exploited in the computer security industry. Adware removal tools among the most popular free software downloads on almost every software website, providing an additional revenue stream for companies that deal in malware removal. The industry deliberately fuels the adware/malware confusion, with names for anti-malware tools often using a play on the term adware, such as Lavasoft Ad-Aware. While these tools may in fact be necessary for the few adware programs that do contain spyware, they are functioning in an anti-spyware role and not in an anti-adware role. Adware removal techniques are no different than the techniques used to remove any other software. Thus, anti-adware programs simply duplicate the functions of tools built into the operating system.
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