Spyware and Adware Change Online User Behavior

Consumers are beginning to learn the definitions of adware and spyware, and the differences between the two. Many have changed their online behavior to avoid potential intrusions. The Pew Internet & American Life Project finds over 59 million adults have found these programs on their home computers.

Pew researchers at discussed the definitions of spyware and adware with users to determine awareness. Forty-three percent, or 59 million American adults, said they have found one example of these programs on their computer. This number is conservative, according to the report, which cites a 2004 study fiding 80 percent of PCs had either ad- or spyware installed. The researchers believe the terms ‘spyware and ‘adware,’ as well as their definitions, are new to many Internet users.

“Not everybody has the time to stay on top of technology news,” said Susannah Fox, associate director at The Pew Internet & American Life Project. “This is bursting on their scene. People are going through a crash course in online security once they get spyware or accidentally launch a virus.”

Definitions for the two forms of software require clarification. Eight out of 10 Internet users say they know what spyware is, but only half understand the concept of adware. Eight out of 10 Internet users say more should be done to alert consumers to the presence of adware files they might be downloading. Among people who have found adware on their machines, that number climbs to 90 percent. Only one in 10 say user agreements, privacy statements, and disclaimers sufficiently advise users they’re installing adware. Seventy-three percent of Internet users say they don’t always read user agreements and disclaimers when downloading or installing programs.

Nine out of 10 users have say they’ve changed how they use the Internet in the following ways:

  • Won’t open email attachments if unsure they are safe (81 percent).
  • Don’t visit sites users fear may deposit unwanted programs on their computers (48 percent).
  • Discontinued downloading music or video files from peer-to-peer networks (25 percent).
  • Use a different Web browser to avoid software intrusions (18 percent).

Modified user behavior avoids Web sites and online activities identified as risky, including adult sites, computer program downloads, online games, music downloads, file sharing, computer game downloads, screensaver downloads, and online product purchases. The report says avoiding these activities online may reduce the chances of “contracting” spyware.

Pew surveyed 2,001 adults by telephone between May 4 and June 7, 2005 for the study.

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