Adware - Are Downloads Safe?
By S. Housley
Adware, Should I be Afraid?
Developers offering downloads are paying the price for the malformed truths
that have been put forth regarding downloads. While not a political campaign
the smears are ever present in the adware arena.
Years ago developers saw they could monetize freeware that
was becoming expensive to host. Developers began working with Ad Networks
such as the former Aureate and Conducent, who imbedded advertisements in the
software. The software in many cases phoned home retrieving ads. In other
cases adverts were imbedded directly into the download only being removed
when the software was registered. Many well known software companies,
including Netscape distributed ad supported versions, which allowed users to
use the software for free. Developers were compensated either by install or
the number of ads served. Advertisers welcomed new revenue streams to reach
Adware or advertising-supported software is any software application in
which advertisements are displayed while the program is running. These
applications include additional code that displays the ads in pop-up windows
or through a bar that appears on a computer screen. Adware helps recover
program development costs, and helps to hold down the price of making the
application for the user, often making it free of charge. As a result of the
AdWare revenue programmers were motivated to write maintain, and upgrade
valuable ad-enabled software. Adware was a great consumer trade off, so were
did it all go wrong?
Unbeknownst to the developers a handful of ad serving companies were logging
and profiling the surfing habits of those who had downloaded the ad-enabled
software. After downloading free software, the new adware companies
delivered pop-up and pop-under ads based on the consumers surfing interests.
Adware has been criticized for including code that tracks a user's surfing
habits, email address and personal information, which are passed to third
parties, without the user's authorization or knowledge. This was the
downfall of the ad serving technology and ad-enabled software.
In many cases consumers rightfully believe they have been and are being
spied on, which prompted an outcry from privacy advocates. Adware is not a
virus and may not be detected by anti-virus scanning programs. It does not
spread the same way as most viruses spread. Many users do not know they are
downloading a free program along with adware onto their computer. The lack
of disclosure tarnished reputations of many well known, but misfortunate
developers and software companies. The collapse of a number of venture
backed ad-serving companies including Aureate and Conducent.
Fast forward to today. Few applications are now ad enabled. Those that are
generally follow strict disclosure guidelines. Some developers opt to insert
static (not changing) ads for other applications in their product line, into
free versions, but these ads do not change and there is no record of what
ads are clicked. Freeware can therefore be used free of charge and there is
no evaluation time period as with shareware. Freeware is also often a basic
or stripped down version of the shareware version. Developers make money off
ads or those who want to upgrade from the free version. There are also
developers who provide freeware out of principle, occasionally asking for a
donation. The majority of freeware that employs the use of imbedded
advertisements are provided in the true spirit of adware without the intent
to track users, but just to be safe consumers should read the fine print.
About the Author:
Sharon Housley manages marketing for NotePage, Inc. http://www.notepage.net
a company specializing in alphanumeric paging, SMS and wireless messaging
software solutions. Other sites by Sharon can be found at http://www.rss-specifications.com,
http://www.softwaremarketingresource.com and http://www.small-business-software.net
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