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It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a PUP! Microsoft Tries to Establish Guidelines to Make Adware Less Annoying

June, 11 2014

If you’ve ever gone online using a browser with the popup blocker off, you know how annoying those magically appearing boxes can be. Extolling everything from hair dye to auto loan deals (and other, less-savory things), they bounce across your screen, while you try to figure out how to close them and go back to reading your favorite blog.

Such programs can be legitimate advertisements or surveys, but they can also contain viruses and other problematic PC pests. Thanks to your anti-malware program(Webroot, Norton, McAfee, or a host of other security apps), these little boxes are labelled as potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) and blocked by your firewall before they show up on your PC desktop. It keeps your computer safe, and we’re fans of that.

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However, consider the first P in the acronym: potentially unwanted programs. Some of these PUPs may come from actual businesses, selling actual things you may want and need. That’s why Microsoft wants to make adware a little more regulated.

This first came to our notice in an online article from The Wall Street Journal’s Digits site. According to the article, Microsoft is working with various adware companies to get their messages across to customers in a less-annoying way. Why? As Microsoft’s Malware Protection Center blog states: “We understand advertising is part of the modern computing experience. However, we want to give our customers choice and control regarding what happens with their computers.”

Fair enough. So what constitutes good adware, at least in Microsoft’s book? First and foremost, there must be an obvious way to close the ad. The name of the program displaying that ad should also be clear, and users should be able to remove that program if they choose.

So, let’s say you’re running a program called XYZDeals, and it pops up an ad notifying you of some really awesome sale. To be compliant with Microsoft’s definition of good adware, the popup ad should tell you it’s from XYZDeals and there should be a way to quickly close the popup without unduly interfering with your other tasks. In time, if you tire of XYZDeals, you can go to the Windows Control Panel and delete it completely and without more annoying ads appearing on your screen.

Online computing is a balancing act: the convenience of the user versus the fact that ad-driven revenues are a main source of income for many programs. Will Microsoft’s guidelines work? We’ll have to wait and see.

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