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The Computer Corner


By Charles Miller


What is a Pup?


An Atención reader stopped me on the street this week with a question. She asked, “What’s a pup?” The obvious answer is “cute, cuddly, loves to chew on things,” but she quickly clarified that her computer had popped up a message saying it had blocked access to a PUP.

The term Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP) or sometimes PUA (Potentially Unwanted Application) was created years ago by Network Associates, the makers of McAfee antivirus software. The new term was created in response to various online marketing companies objecting to having their products referred to in derogatory terms such as “adware,” “spyware,” or “malware.”

The problem here is that there is a certain “grey area” when it comes to determining what is malware and what is not. Further complicating the matter is the fact that some of the purveyors of these (allegedly) bad programs are otherwise respectable companies. The characteristic that distinguishes a PUP is that it is not dangerous or malicious but the fact that it sneaks into your computer by not informing you, the user, before installing itself. This distinction is a subtle one and more a question of semantics. In order to avoid any legal issues that might arise from using a pejorative label to describe certain specific advertising and marketing software, Network Associates took to calling some of these junk programs “potentially unwanted.”

The advertising and marketing companies take the position that it is okay for them to install their programs on your computer because they claim it is done only with the informed consent of the user. They can say this because their program requires the user to click on the button that says [I Agree] while installing the software. While that is true, it is almost universally true that only an infinitesimal number of users are ever going to take the time to read pages and pages of End User License Agreement before they click that [I Agree] button. Even those who think they read the agreement often fail to read it in sufficient detail or with an informed knowledge of the language to understand exactly what they just agreed to install.

Your antivirus software is no help at all when it comes to PUPs because a PUP is not a virus and not dangerous and thus is not identified as something that should be blocked or removed. Junk software that displays intrusive advertising or tracks your Internet usage to sell that information to advertisers, does not quite meet the definition of a “virus.” But even though PUPs are not classified as dangerous, they can worsen the performance of your computer and could possibly cause security risks.

So, to answer the question originally put by the reader: a PUP is any program that may be unwanted, despite the fact that its user technically did consent to allowing it to be installed on their computer when they clicked on that button that said [I Agree].

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528, or email FAQ8 (at)


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