Many people are under the misconception that spyware and adware are the same things. In actuality they are two different software programs that are both considered malware, which is short for malicious software. While there are occasions where the two are integrated with each other, they serve two different purposes.
As the name may imply, the sole purpose of adware is to advertise products or services. Adware is any software application that is used to display ads while another program is running. Many freeware programs use it, not only to recover programming costs but also as a tactic to get people to purchase their product. If you have ever played or downloaded free online games then you have more than likely seen it. You can play the free game as for as long as you like but you have to deal with the pop-up ads or ad windows that appear periodically. The only way to stop them is to purchase the full version of the game. Most people just tolerate them in order to continue playing for free but they can be nuisances. Many websites use adware also. How many times have you gone to a website and had three or four advertisement windows appear behind your browser window?
Adware itself is fairly harmless, even if it is rather annoying. So why do so many people worry about having it on their computers? Many companies embed tracking software, which is a form of spyware, into their adware programs. Sometimes the fact that it is there is disclosed in the terms of service contract or the end user license agreement but not always. Regardless, most people are not comfortable with the fact that their Internet habits are being watched.
Spyware is any software that is unknowingly installed onto a computer for the purpose of intercepting information or taking control over the users interaction with the computer without their consent. It is much more dangerous than adware because it can collect various types of personal information such as user names, passwords, social security numbers, or bank account information. It can also take over control of your computer by installing programs that you do not want and redirecting your web browser to virus-ridden websites that could potentially cause major damage to your computer. As if that were not bad enough, spyware can also change your computer settings, which can alter your home page, uninstall programs, and even cause you to lose your Internet connection.
While adware and spyware are both major nuisances to Internet users, the two main differences between them is that one is harmless and is used to advertise while the other can be harmful and is used to track and possibly manipulate Internet usage. Either way, both are undesirable and both can be prevented and eliminated by using a reputable antispyware program.