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Adware, or advertising-supported software, is any software package that automatically renders advertisements in order to generate revenue for its author. The advertisements may be in the user interface of the software or on a screen presented to the user during the installation process. The functions may be designed to analyze which Internet sites the user visits and to present advertising pertinent to the types of goods or services featured there. The term is sometimes used to refer to software that displays unwanted advertisements known as malware.[1]

Advertising-supported software

In legitimate software, the advertising functions are integrated into or bundled with the program. Adware is usually seen by the developer as a way to recover development costs, and in some cases, it may allow the software to be provided to the user free of charge or at a reduced price. The income derived from presenting advertisements to the user may allow or motivate the developer to continue to develop, maintain and upgrade the software product.[2] The use of advertising-supported software in business is becoming increasingly popular, with a third of IT and business executives in a 2007 survey by McKinsey & Company planning to be using ad-funded software within the following two years.[3] Advertisement-funded software is also one of the business models for open-source software.

In application software

Some software is offered in both an advertising-supported mode and a paid, advertisement-free mode. The latter is usually available by an online purchase of a license or registration code for the software that unlocks the mode, or the purchase and download of a separate version of the software.[lower-alpha 1]

Some software authors offer advertising-supported versions of their software as an alternative option to business organizations seeking to avoid paying large sums for software licenses, funding the development of the software with higher fees for advertisers.[7]

Examples of advertising-supported software include the Windows version of the Internet telephony application Skype,[8] and the Amazon Kindle 3 family of e-book readers, which has versions called "Kindle with Special Offers" that display advertisements on the home page and in sleep mode in exchange for substantially lower pricing.[9]

In 2012, Microsoft and its advertising division, Microsoft Advertising,[lower-alpha 2] announced that Windows 8, the major release of the Microsoft Windows operating system, would provide built-in methods for software authors to use advertising support as a business model.[11][12] The idea had been considered since as early as 2005.[13]

In software as a service

Support by advertising is a popular business model of software as a service (SaaS) on the Web. Notable examples include the email service Gmail[2][14] and other Google Apps products,[3] and the social network Facebook.[15][16] Microsoft has also adopted the advertising-supported model for many of its social software SaaS offerings.[17] The Microsoft Office Live service was also available in an advertising-supported mode.[3]

In the view of Federal Trade Commission staff,[18] there appears to be general agreement that software should be considered "spyware" only if it is downloaded or installed on a computer without the user's knowledge and consent. However, unresolved issues remain concerning how, what, and when consumers need to be told about software installed on their computers for consent to be adequate. For instance, distributors often disclose in an end-user license agreement that there is additional software bundled with primary software, but some panelists and commenters did not view such disclosure as sufficient to infer consent to the installation of the bundled software.

As malware

The term adware is frequently used to describe a form of malware (malicious software)[19][20] which presents unwanted advertisements to the user of a computer.[21][22] The advertisements produced by adware are sometimes in the form of a pop-up or sometimes in an "unclosable window".[23]

When the term is used in this way, the severity of its implication varies. While some sources rate adware only as an "irritant",[24] others classify it as an "online threat"[25] or even rate it as seriously as computer viruses and trojans.[26] The precise definition of the term in this context also varies.[lower-alpha 3] Adware that observes the computer user's activities without their consent and reports it to the software's author is called spyware.[28]

Programs that have been developed to detect, quarantine, and remove advertisement-displaying malware, include: Ad-Aware, Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware, Spyware Doctor and Spybot - Search & Destroy. In addition, almost all commercial antivirus software currently detect adware and spyware, or offer a separate detection module.[29] A new wrinkle is Adware (using stolen certificates) that disables anti-malware and virus protection; technical remedies are available.[30]

Similar adware has also been discovered in certain low-cost Android devices, particularly those made by small Chinese firms running on Allwinner systems-on-chip. There are even cases where adware code is embedded deep into files stored on the /system and boot partitions, to which removal involves extensive (and complex) modifications to the firmware.[31]

See also


  1. For example, in 2007 Microsoft changed its productivity suite Microsoft Works to be advertising-supported.[4] Works was subsequently replaced with the Microsoft Office 2010 software suite operating in a "starter" mode that included advertisements.[5] As of 2012, this product is also being phased out and replaced with Office Web Apps.[6]
  2. Formed in 2008 following Microsoft's acquisition of digital marketing company aQuantive.[10]
  3. A workshop held by the Federal Trade Commission in 2005 asked representatives of the computer, electronic advertising, and anti-spyware product industries, as well as representatives of trade associations, government agencies, consumer and privacy advocacy groups, to try and define adware and its relation to spyware, and did not find a clear consensus.[27]


  1. Tulloch, Mitch (2003). Koch, Jeff; Haynes, Sandra (eds.). Microsoft Encyclopedia of Security. Redmond, Washington: Microsoft Press. p. 16. ISBN 0-7356-1877-1. Any software that installs itself on your system without your knowledge and displays advertisements when the user browses the Internet.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Braue, David (4 September 2008). "Feature: Ad-supported software". ZDNet. Retrieved 4 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Hayes Weier, Mary (5 May 2007). "Businesses Warm To No-Cost, Ad-Supported Software". Information Week. Retrieved 4 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Foley, Mary Jo (30 July 2007). "Microsoft Works to become a free, ad-funded product". Retrieved 4 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Foley, Mary Jo (9 October 2009). "Microsoft adds an 'Office Starter' edition to its distribution plans". ZDNet. Retrieved 4 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Foley, Mary Jo (21 June 2012). "Microsoft begins phasing out Starter edition of its Office suite". ZDNet. Retrieved 4 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Levy, Ari (23 April 2012). "Ad-supported software reaches specialized audience". SF Gate. Retrieved 4 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Tung, Liam (11 March 2011). "Skype now free ad-supported software". iT News for Australian Business. Retrieved 4 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Kindle, Wi-Fi, Graphite, 6" Display with New E Ink Pearl Technology — includes Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers"., Inc. Retrieved 4 August 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Microsoft Advertising Historical Timeline". Microsoft Advertising. September 2008. Retrieved 20 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  12. Kim, Stephen (1 October 2012). "Microsoft Advertising Unveils New Windows 8 Ads in Apps Concepts with Agency Partners at Advertising Week 2012". Microsoft. Retrieved 20 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Fried, Ina. "Microsoft eyes making desktop apps free". CNET. Archived from the original on 14 November 2005. Retrieved 20 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Teeter, Ryan; Karl Barksdale (9 February 2011). Google Apps For Dummies. pp. 3–27. ISBN 1-118-05240-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. 17 January 2011 by Jolie O'Dell 203 (17 January 2011). "Facebook's Ad Revenue Hit $1.86B for 2010". Retrieved 21 December 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Womack, Brian (20 September 2011). "Facebook Revenue Will Reach $4.27 Billion, EMarketer Says". Bloomberg. Retrieved 21 December 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Foley, Mary Jo (3 May 2007). "Meet Microsoft, the advertising company". ZDNet. Retrieved 20 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Majoras, Deborah Platt. "FTC Staff Report. Monitoring Software on Your PC: Spyware, Adware, and Other Software" (PDF). Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved 4 April 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. National Cyber Security Alliance. "Malware & Botnets". Retrieved 4 December 2012. The terms 'spyware' and 'adware' apply to several different [malware] technologies...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Viruses and other forms of malicious software". Princeton University Office of Information Technology. 5 July 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2012. malware also includes worms, spyware and adware.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Vincentas (11 July 2013). "Adware in". Spyware Loop. Retrieved 27 July 2013. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |newspaper= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Malware from A to Z". Lavasoft. Retrieved 4 December 2012. [Adware] delivers advertising content potentially in a manner or context that may be unexpected and unwanted by users.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. National Cyber Security Alliance. "Data Privacy Day Glossary". Retrieved 4 December 2012. Adware: type of malware that allows popup ads on a computer system, ultimately taking over a user's Internet browsing.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Spyware, Adware and Malware — Advice for networks and network users". RM Education. Retrieved 4 December 2012. [Adware] tend[s] to be more of an irritant than do actual damage to your system, but [is] an unwanted presence nonetheless.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "McAfee, Inc. Names Most Dangerous Celebrities in Cyberspace". McAfee. Retrieved 4 December 2012. online threats, such as spyware, spam, phishing, adware, viruses and other malware...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Copy available at Bloomberg.
  26. Stern, Jerry. "Spyware, Adware, Malware, Thief: Creating Business Income from Denial of Service and Fraud" (PDF). ASPects, Newsletter of the Association of Shareware Professionals. Association of Software Professionals. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 September 2012. Adware has become a bad word, linked to spyware and privacy violations by everyone except the publishers of the products... [it was] a good thing ten or fifteen years ago, and [is] bad now... [t]he lines for adware are even being blended into virus and trojan territory.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Spyware Workshop: Monitoring Software On Your Personal Computer: Spyware, Adware and Other Software. Federal Trade Commission. March 2005. p. 2. Retrieved 4 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Schwabach, Aaron (2005). Internet and the Law: Technology, Society, and Compromises. ABC-CLIO. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-85109-731-9. Retrieved 4 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Honeycutt, Jerry (20 April 2004). "How to protect your computer from Spyware and Adware". Microsoft corporation. Archived from the original on 7 February 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Casey, Henry T. (25 November 2015). "Latest adware disables antivirus software". Tom's Guide. Retrieved 25 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "Decompile: Technical analysis of the Trojan". Cheetah Mobile. 9 November 2015. Retrieved 7 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>