WWW FAQs: What are spyware and adware?

2004-08-17: Programs that cause your computer to display ads even when you are not using the program in question for its intended purpose, as well as those that report information about your web browsing activities to an advertising firm, are commonly known as "spyware." Typical examples are programs like "WeatherBug" and "MemoryMeter." These claim to serve a useful purpose and, in some cases, actually provide some service, but their main goal is to present annoying and unwanted advertising throughout your web browsing experience. They are very difficult to remove manually. Fortunately, there are excellent free tools available to do the job correctly. For more information, see why is my web browser broken?

Adware programs, strictly speaking, are well-behaved applications that happen to display some advertising in that program, while you are using that program. Usually this is offered as an alternative to paying for the software. This is a perfectly legitimate practice, but with the exception of a few well-known programs like the Opera web browser, true adware has become quite rare, crowded out by aggressive spyware.

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